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


Brownell Jr, R. L., Reeves, R. R., Read, A. J., Smith, B. D., Thomas, P. O., Ralls, K., Amano, M., Berggren, P., Chit, A. M., Collins, T., Currey, R., Dolar, M. L. L., Genov, T., Hobbs, R. C., Kreb, D., Marsh, H., Zhigang, M., Perrin, W. F., Phay, S., Rojas-Bracho, L., Ryan, G. E., Shelden, K. E. W., Slooten, E., Taylor, B. L., Vidal, O., Ding, W., Whitty, T. S. and Wang, J. Y.



Secondary Title

Endangered Species Research






Bycatch, Threat assessment, IUCN Red List, conservation status, gillnet, Entanglement, Irrawaddy dolphin, orcaella brevirostris, vaquita, Phocoena sinus, maui dolphin, cephalorhynchus hectori maui, Sousa chinensis, Sousa teuszii, humpback dolphin, sousa plumbea, finless porpoise, neophocaena phocaenoides, extinction


The conservation status of small cetaceans has significantly worsened since the 1980s, when the baiji was the only species of small cetacean listed as Endangered by IUCN. Now the baiji is almost certainly 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.