Laúd OPO network extends regional bycatch assessment from South America to Mexico
Leatherbacks in the eastern Pacific face threats throughout the region, but none has a bigger impact than accidental interactions with fishing gear, or bycatch. While the threat of bycatch is well-known, it isn’t very well documented in the region. This lack of baseline information is an obstacle to identifying the most important places and most important fishing gears to focus limited conservation resources. Laúd OPO partners in Perú and Chile have been assessing and trying to reduce leatherback bycatch for many years, but little is known about possible areas of high bycatch risk in México and Central America.
To fill this gap, Laúd OPO partners — Kutzari in México, Fauna and Flora Internacional in Nicaragua, The Leatherback Trust in Costa Rica — implemented an established rapid bycatch assessment methodology (developed by ProDelphinus) in the countries that host nearly all leatherback nesting in the region—México, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Between October 2016 and March 2018, we surveyed 933 fishers among 48 ports. Surveyed fishers represented approximately 6%, 34%, and 39% of the total number of artisanal vessels working across surveyed ports in México, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, respectively.
But the network didn’t stop there. Laúd OPO partners in Panamá (Autoridad de Recursos Acuáticos de Panamá) and Colombia (JUSTSEA Foundation; University of North Carolina, Wilmington) also conducted rapid bycatch assessments in those countries using the same methodology, and coordinated information and data sharing with partners from México, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Altogether, Laúd OPO partners conducted nearly 2,000 rapid bycatch surveys across 67 ports overall in México, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panamá, and Colombia. Although leatherback bycatch was not reported frequently (6% of surveys overall), it was reported in more than half of the ports surveyed. The low frequency of reported bycatch probably reflects the reduced population size, while the regional spread of reported bycatch reflects that it is still a threat to leatherbacks throughout the eastern Pacific.
Adding these to previous work in Ecuador, Perú, and Chile, the network has now achieved regional coverage of bycatch assessments—using the same methodology–from Chile to México. With this regional coverage, Laúd OPO is focusing the next phase of work in particular places highlighted as potentially important for increasing monitoring and conservation measures. Overall, this project shows the power of a coordinated, collaborative regional network for understanding and addressing a critical regional challenge.