Marine mammal population decline linked to obscured by-catch
Declines of marine megafauna due to fisheries by-catch are thought to be mitigated by exclusion devices that release nontarget species. However, exclusion devices may instead conceal negative effects associated with by-catch caused by fisheries (i.e., unobserved or discarded by-catch with low postrelease survival or reproduction). We show that the decline of the endangered New Zealand (NZ) sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) is linked to latent levels of by-catch occurring in sub-Antarctic trawl fisheries. Exclusion devices have been used since 2001 but have not slowed or reversed population decline. However, 35% of the variability in NZ sea lion pup production is explained by latent by-catch, and the population would increase without this factor. Our results indicate that exclusion devices can obscure rather than alleviate fishery impacts on marine megafauna.
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