Quantifying longline bycatch mortality for pelagic sharks in western Pacific shark sanctuaries

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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Marine protected areas are increasingly touted for their role in conserving large marine predators such as sharks, but their efficacy is debated. Seventeen “shark sanctuaries” have been established globally, but longline fishing continues within many such jurisdictions, leading to unknown levels of bycatch mortality levels. Using public data from Global Fishing Watch and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, we quantified longline fishing within eight shark sanctuaries and estimated pelagic shark catch and mortality for seven pelagic shark species. Sanctuary mortality ranged from 600 individuals (Samoa) to 36,256 individuals (Federated States of Micronesia), equivalent to ~5% of hypothesized sustainable levels for blue sharks to ~40% for silky sharks, with high mortality levels in the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands. Unsustainable mortality rates were exceeded for silky sharks in two sanctuaries, highlighting a need for additional stock assessments and implementation of bycatch reduction measures. Big data integration workflows represent a transformative tool in fisheries management, particularly for data-poor species.