Date of this Version
U.S. Pacific pelagic longline fisheries operating in the central North Pacific have been subject to a series of regulations to reduce bycatch of protected species, including seabirds and sea turtles. Cetaceans are also occasionally caught, and the bycatch of false killer whales, Pseudorca crassidens, in the Hawaii-based deep-set longline fishery currently exceeds allowable levels under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). In this study, we examined longline observer data collected between 1994 and 2009, with emphasis on 2003–2009, to identify patterns of cetacean bycatch and depredation in relation to area, time, vessel, habitat variables, fishing gear, and set characteristics. The objectives of these analyses were to identify relationships amongst fishery interaction rates and variables that could provide opportunities to reduce depredation by cetaceans, reduce the likelihood of incidentally catching a cetacean when present, or reduce the severity of injuries to cetaceans if caught. The results of this study were provided to the False Killer Whale Take Reduction Team, convened under the MMPA, as they developed a plan to reduce serious injury and mortality of false killer whales in these fisheries. No correlates were identified that could markedly reduce depredation rates, but a slight (16%) reduction in repeat depredation within a fishing trip was evident when vessels moved at least 100 km following a depredation event. The most practical option for reducing bycatch of false killer whales was determined to be the use of small (14⁄0 –16⁄0) circle hooks, which could result in an estimated 6% reduction in bycatch and a greater likelihood of releasing animals with non-serious injuries. Additional research is needed to address unresolved questions relating to processes involved in depredation events and hookings or entanglements of false killer whales.