Times are changing, but has natural mortality? Estimation of mortality rates for tropical tunas in the western and central Pacific Ocean

Tom Peatman, Matthew T. Vincent, Joe Scutt Phillips, Simon Nicol

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Abstract

A variety of density-dependent and -independent processes have been proposed to influence natural mortality rates, potentially leading to variation through time. Processes of natural mortalities are rarely directly observed, making estimation of natural mortality rates difficult. Mark-recapture data allow estimation of total mortality rates, which can be separated into natural and fishing mortality with information on rates of tag reporting, tag shedding and tag-induced mortality. We fitted attrition models and length-based Brownie models to four decades of mark-recapture data from skipjack and yellowfin tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, a period representing a sustained expansion of associated fisheries in the region as well as rapid changes to the marine environment. The modelled dataset included c. 250,000 skipjack and 100,000 yellowfin tag releases, with 45,000 and 17,000 recoveries of skipjack and yellowfin respectively, released from 1977 to 2017. Increases in fishing mortality were detected over this time for both skipjack and yellowfin, with evidence of temporal changes in selectivity for yellowfin. Estimates of natural mortality were highest for the smallest size class and generally lower for larger sizes, though there was large uncertainty in the largest size groups due to lower sample sizes of tagged fish. There was no clear evidence of temporal changes in natural mortality rates for either species, though there was some evidence of changes in natural mortality for the smaller yellowfin size classes (< 61 cm). However, there was likely insufficient statistical power to test for plausible changes in natural mortality rates for yellowfin due to low precision of estimates during the earlier years of the tag dataset.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106463
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFisheries Research
Volume256
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

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