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Assessing the effect of recreational scallop harvest on the distribution and behaviour of foraging marine turtles

  • Natalie Wildermann (a1), Christopher Sasso (a2), Christian Gredzens (a1) and Mariana M. P. B. Fuentes (a1)

The impact of fisheries on marine megafauna is widely known but most studies have focused on commercial fisheries, overlooking the effect of local recreational fisheries. This is particularly important for marine turtles in near-shore habitats that overlap with recreational fisheries. We assessed the effect of recreational scallop fisheries on the distribution and behaviour of foraging marine turtles in the coastal waters of the upper Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Before and during the scallop season we quantified the density and overlap of marine turtles and vessels sighted, and satellite tracked four turtles to assess their distribution and behaviour. The relative distribution of marine turtles sighted during the scallop season overlapped with 48% of the area most frequently used by harvesters, and marine turtle activity hotspots shifted between seasons. In addition, during the scallop season the home range size of individual turtles appeared to decrease, and turtles displayed frequent changes in travel speed and directionality. We hypothesize that such changes are probably related to the distribution and movement of vessels and the abundant presence of people in the water. Our study highlights the importance of considering recreational fisheries and their local effect on marine megafauna for informing future adaptive management practices. However, further studies are needed to quantify the direct and indirect impacts of recreational fisheries and to assess the degree of risk of associated activities to marine turtle populations.

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