Dynamics of marine predators off an oceanic island and implications for management of a preventative shark fishing program

Abstract

Oceanic islands are productive ecosystems, and so have higher densities of many marine predators. We investigated the dynamics of elasmobranch and teleost predators in coastal waters off Réunion Island, Indian Ocean, using fisheries-independent data from a preventative shark fishing program from January 2014 to December 2019. We developed a moonlight index that calculates exact moonlight through incorporating lunar azimuth, elevation angle and island topography. We quantified spatial–temporal and environmental drivers of occurrence using zero-inflated mixed models and assessed species-specific catchability in the program. A consistent segregated pattern was observed with higher occurrence of all species at dusk and after-dusk associated with lower luminosity. Scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) and giant trevally (Caranx ignobilis) were found to patrol coastal waters earlier in the day than the other species. Tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier) and bull (Carcharhinus leucas) sharks showed high spatial segregation, potentially reducing competition. Teleost predators were found more frequently inside the coral reef environment of the Marine Protected Area but there was no clear pattern for sharks. Seasonality was observed for giant trevally, stingrays, bull sharks, and giant guitarfish (Rhynchobatus australiae), with higher presence during early winter periods related to turbidity, photosynthetically available radiation, and temperature. Inter-annual variation in catch rates suggested that juvenile tiger sharks might be replacing bull sharks in nearshore habitats, and the consequences for mitigation of shark bite hazard are discussed. Operational alternatives are proposed to enhance reducing the impacts of preventative shark fishing upon critically endangered species, improve their conservation and ensure local ecosystem balance.

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Data availability

The data used in the present research was collected by the Shark Security Centre (collected from the field from 2018 to 2019, and from the Fisheries Committee for the data previously collected). Datasets used in the publication are available on the SIMM website (link to be provided).

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Acknowledgements

Funding to YN through an International Macquarie University Research Training Program scholarship is deeply acknowledged. Funding to AW through the University of La Réunion from European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement no. 641762, ECOPOTENTIAL) and from the European Union’s FEDER (Regional Council of La Réunion, University of La Réunion) Fiche Action 1.16 “Renforcer l’effort en RDI des entreprises par le recrutement de jeunes diplômés”. EL contribution benefited from the Ocean Metiss project investigations funded by the European Commission through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (grant EASME/EMFF/2016/1.2.1.6/04/SI2.766484).

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The relevant funding agencies have been acknowledged in the appropriate section, and we have no further ones to report.

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YN, AW, UA, SJ, EL, RH, VP, and DG conceived the ideas and designed the methodology; DG collected the data; YN analysed the data and led the writing of the manuscript. All authors contributed critically to the drafts and gave final approval for publication.

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Correspondence to Yuri Niella.

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The moonlight index code (https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3971062) is publicly available together with a manual from https://github.com/YuriNiella/Moonlight-index.

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Niella, Y., Wiefels, A., Almeida, U. et al. Dynamics of marine predators off an oceanic island and implications for management of a preventative shark fishing program. Mar Biol 168, 42 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-021-03852-9

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