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Bycatch in gillnet fisheries threatens Critically Endangered small cetaceans and other aquatic megafauna

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Per Berggren



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The conservation status of small cetaceans has significantly worsened since the 1980s, when the bajii was the only critically endangered species of dolphin or porpoise. Now the baiji is extinct and 13 other species, subspecies, or populations (hereafter units-to-conserve or units) of small cetaceans are listed as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List. Bycatch is the main threat to 11 of the CR units. Entanglement in gillnets contributed to the extinction of the baiji and is responsible for the imminent extinction of the vaquita. Unfortunately, there is no simple technical solution to the problem of bycatch of small cetaceans. If the 8 CR units with 100 or fewer remaining individuals are to be saved, conservation zones must be established where gillnets are eliminated and bans on their use are strictly enforced. Recent experience with the vaquita in Mexico demonstrates that enforcement of such conservation zones can be very difficult. Ineffective enforcement is also a problem for at least 4 of the other CR units. Time is very short and, unless major efforts are made now to address the bycatch problem, the prospects for CR small cetaceans and other at-risk aquatic megafauna are grim. The ultimate long-term solution to the bycatch problem is the development of efficient, inexpensive alternative fishing gear that can replace gillnets without jeopardizing the livelihoods of fishermen. Good fishery governance and the direct involvement of fishing communities are also essential to the successful conservation of most threatened populations of small cetaceans.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Brownell Jr RL, Reeves RR, Read AJ, Smith BD, Thomas PO, Ralls K, Amano M, Berggren P, Chit AM, Collins T, Currey R, Dolar LL, Genov T, Hobbs RC, Kreb D, Marsh H, Zhigang M, Perrin WF, Phay S, Rojas-Bracho L, Ryan GE, Shelden KEW, Slooten E, Taylor BL, Vidal O, Ding W, Whitty TS, Wang JY

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Endangered Species Research

Year: 2019

Volume: 40

Pages: 285-296

Online publication date: 05/12/2019

Acceptance date: 21/09/2019

Date deposited: 20/12/2019

ISSN (print): 1863-5407

ISSN (electronic): 1613-4796

Publisher: Inter-Research


DOI: 10.3354/esr00994


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