Sustainable Management of Bycatch in Latin America and Caribbean Trawl Fisheries (REBYC-II LAC)

Scientific observers provide valuable data for shrimp fisheries in Campeche, Mexico

Shrimp fisheries in Mexico hold the second place in terms of volume and generate 45% of the value of all fishing products, as well as being the main source of foreign income for the fishing industry. In order to continue a responsible shrimp production, Mexico is part of the REBYC-II LAC project, which seeks Sustainable Management of Bycatch in Trawl Shrimp Fisheries in Latin America and the Caribbean. As part of this project, a Monitoring Program with on-board Observers was implemented, which provides information on the composition and variation of bycatch in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the population dynamics of the target species and the bycatch associated. This information serves to generate a baseline that will be the reference that, in turn, will allow evaluation of changes seen as a result of modifications in management strategies that are implemented in this fishery, including new designs of fishing gear to reduce the impact of the fishery on the environment.

During the first two and a half years of this program 30 trips of the commercial fleet off Campeche were monitored, data was obtained from 1,668 hauls and observers participated in 10 research cruises, as well as collaborating in 7 campaigns of exploration carried out by INAPESCA. Likewise, three courses for observer training were carried out, an "Observers Manual" was prepared, which includes the "Observer behavior manual” and "Instructions for on-board sampling", a " Field Guide for Species Identification ", which to date includes 321 records with photographs and diagrams with distinctive characteristics of each species, and a database associated to a Geographic Information System was built for the collection and systematization of information.

Among the most relevant results of the program to date, the following stand out:

• Four main fishing areas were identified and delimited, being the Sonda de Campeche (84% of hauls monitored) the most important. The main species caught in this area is the pink shrimp.

• In the three monitored fishing seasons, shrimp represented 30 to 37%; retained bycatch from 5 to 14% and discarded bycatch from 54 to 65% of total catches. The fraction of the bycatch that is used, with respect to the total bycatch, is on average 20%.

• In the variation of the CPUE (kg/h) of shrimp and the proportion of shrimp, some sites with a greater presence of bycatch stand out, such as the coastal zone, where it increases considerably. Seasonal differences were also observed, since in the dry season in this region shrimp abundance decreases.

• A total of 182 genera and 321 species were identified, although 25 of them represent 55% of the total bycatch. The obtained indices allow to have the base of the current taxonomic composition of the communities and can be used as future indicators of possible environmental changes or overfishing due to the intensity of trawls.

In general, the Observer program has shown that, although the bycatch rate found is lower than in other areas of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mexican Pacific, it is very important to carry out actions to reduce it to minimum levels, for the benefit of the ecosystem and the fishery itself. As an example, a proposal that could be discussed with the sector is the convenience of avoiding the operation of the fleet, targeting white shrimp, in coastal areas south of Campeche and Tabasco, considering the low shrimp yields and high bycatch rates.

The consolidation of the data collection system, through the continuity of the observer program and the systematization of the information through the database, allows monitoring and performing countless fisheries and population analyzes of the different species, determining areas with the greatest and lowest concentration of both the target species and bycatch, areas with greater biological diversity, vulnerable species or species with higher biological value, among others. Having transparent and reliable information is essential for strengthening decision-making through the Fisheries Advisory Committee, which includes participation of the fishing industry, academia and the government. As the data collection system is improved and its use in decision-making extends, it will be possible to advance in the sustainable management of this important fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.