A retrospective analysis of shark catches made by pelagic longliners off the east coast of South Africa and biology and life history of shortfin mako shark, Isurus oxyrinchus.
Oceanic pelagic shark species are under threat worldwide as fishing effort increases and they are taken as both targeted and bycatch. It is widely recognized that the life history characteristics of sharks make them inherently susceptible to overexploitation and as a result many shark-directed fisheries have collapsed. It is therefore essential that good-quality data are collected and analyzed in order to provide fisheries managers with the right information to manage these species sustainably. South Africa has a pelagic longline fishery which includes tuna-, swordfish-, and shark-directed vessels. This study analyzed logbook (1998 – 2010) and observer data (2002 – 2010) provided by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in order to assess the catch composition and standardized catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) of sharks captured as both targeted catch and bycatch. The study area consisted of four zones moving east of the 20°E meridian: the Agulhas Bank (20°E – 24°E), South Coast (25°E – 29°E), East Coast 1 (30°E – 32.8°E), and East Coast 2 (32.9°E – 36.5°E). The majority of fishing effort targeted at tuna was focused on the Agulhas Bank and consisted of foreign vessels which operated over the winter months, whereas local vessels targeted swordfish with consistent year-round effort along the upper east coast. Sharks made up 13% of total catches according to logbook data and catch composition was dominated by blue shark (Prionace glauca) and shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus). Observer data identified a larger number of shark species than shown by logbooks, and notably, the crocodile shark (Pseudocarcharias kamoharai) made up 22.5% of shark bycatch on swordfish-directed vessels operating along the upper east coast. In addition, the observer data showed that although blue and mako shark dominated catches in the Agulhas Bank and South coast zones, carcharhinid sharks were more prevalent further east. Generalized linear models explained 54% of the variation in CPUE of shark bycatch, with year and target species being the two most important explanatory variables. The standardized CPUE index based on logbook data suggested a slightly increasing shark abundance trend between 1998 and 2010, but conversely, the index based on observer data suggested a decline between 2002 and 2010. Assuming that the observer data best reflected the actual CPUE trend (i.e. a declining trend), the increasing trend shown by logbooks over the same period most likely stems from initial under-reporting of shark capture events by skippers, followed by improved reporting in later years, thus masking the declining trend. Catch by target species revealed that swordfish vessels caught significantly more sharks per 1000 hooks than tuna vessels. The shortfin mako shark was one of the most common bycatch species, and also the primary target species of the shark-directed fishery. Generalized linear models of shortfin mako shark CPUE using the delta method produced similar trends than models of total shark bycatch; i.e. trends based on logbook data appeared stable but observer data showed a declining trend over time. Shortfin mako sharks were more abundant in the Agulhas Bank and South coast zones than along the East coast. A total of 817 shortfin mako shark samples were collected onboard a South African shark-directed pelagic longline vessel operating out of Cape Town and by the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board bather protection nets, set close inshore. Sharks collected inshore (from nets) were significantly larger than those collected offshore. More males than females were collected from the nets (2.3 males : 1 female), whereas the ratio for offshore samples was 1.1 : 1. Age and growth parameters were estimated from 89 sectioned vertebral samples consisting of 43 females and 46 males ranging in size from 90 cm to 299.4 cm fork length (FL). Annual band-pair deposition was assumed and growth was analyzed by fitting 3-parameter von Bertalanffy and Gompertz growth models. Parameter estimates for the Gompertz model were: K = 0.152 year¯¹ for males and 0.127 yearˉ¹ for females; L0 = 85 cm; L∞ = 295 cm for males and 315 cm for females; and longevity was 17 and 21 years for males and females respectively. Estimates for the von Bertalanffy model were: K = 0.08 yearˉ¹ for both sexes; L0 = 85 cm; L∞ = 354 cm for males and 321 cm for females; and longevity was 34 and 31 years for males and females respectively. Using these data, age and length at 50% maturity were calculated at 7 years and 199.1 cm FL for males, and 14 years and 252.8 cm for females. Litter size was in agreement with previous studies (9 to 14 pups). The gestation period was not estimated but parturition may be in late winter to spring. The stomach contents of 817 sharks showed that shortfin mako sharks are opportunistic feeders; elasmobranchs dominated in stomachs collected from sharks caught in nets near the shore (%F = 63.54%) whereas shark stomachs collected from the offshore contained mainly teleosts (70%). Length-frequency analyses revealed that large and reproductively active shortfin mako sharks were more common along the upper east coast and in the inshore environment, whereas juveniles and subadults preferred the oceanic environment, particularly over the Agulhas Bank and South Coast zones. The findings from the present study are a significant step forward towards developing a management strategy for protecting shortfin mako sharks in the South West Indian Ocean region.
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