Enhancing the TurtleWatch product for leatherback sea turtles, a dynamic habitat model for ecosystem-based management
Fishery management measures to reduce interactions between fisheries and endangered or threatened species have typically relied on static time-area closures. While these efforts have reduced interactions, they can be costly and inefficient for managing highly migratory species such as sea turtles. The NOAA TurtleWatch product was created in 2006 as a tool to reduce the rates of interactions of loggerhead sea turtles with shallow-set longline gear deployed by the Hawaii-based pelagic longline fishery targeting swordfish. TurtleWatch provides information on loggerhead habitat and can be used by managers and industry to make dynamic management decisions to potentially reduce incidentally capturing turtles during fishing operations. TurtleWatch is expanded here to include information on endangered leatherback turtles to help reduce incidental capture rates in the central North Pacific. Fishery-dependent data were combined with fishing effort, bycatch and satellite tracking data of leatherbacks to characterize sea surface temperature (SST) relationships that identify habitat or interaction ‘hotspots’. Analysis of SST identified two zones, centered at 17.2° and 22.9°C, occupied by leatherbacks on fishing grounds of the Hawaii-based swordfish fishery. This new information was used to expand the TurtleWatch product to provide managers and industry near real-time habitat information for both loggerheads and leatherbacks. The updated TurtleWatch product provides a tool for dynamic management of the Hawaii-based shallow-set fishery to aid in the bycatch reduction of both species. Updating the management strategy to dynamically adapt to shifts in multi-species habitat use through time is a step towards an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management in pelagic ecosystems.