Shark and ray bycatch reduction is of central importance to the socio-economy of the Azores because (a) there are combined benefits to fish and fishermen including increased sustainability of fish stocks, and (b) for the sustainability of important ecotourism species, for which habitat’s highly overlap with pelagic fisheries. In an effort to improve the efficiency of selective fishery devices, we propose to provide novel scientific data on the sensory biology and feeding ecology of elasmobranchs that are heavily impacted by bycatch. This project will focus on three species of primary importance to the development and sustainability of Azorean fisheries and ecotourism. The Blue shark, is considered vulnerable and heavily explored by the pelagic longline fisheries targeting swordfish in the North-East Atlantic, although it is a valuable species to the growing ecotourism industry of the Azores. Similarly, the Chilean devil ray is of high ecotourism value, despite its susceptibility to pelagic longline, purse seine, and gillnets in the North-East Atlantic and other parts of its range. Limited data is available on this pelagic ray due to low accessibility in other parts of the world that currently hinder the assessment of population status. Efforts to design effective elasmobranch bycatch reduction strategies have started to emerge due to growing concern and directives of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, although effectiveness has been limited, especially due to a poor understanding of the sensory biology and feeding ecology of many species.
In this project, we propose to (1) fill these gaps in knowledge for the Blue shark and the Chilean devil ray, using cutting-edge technology, and (2) to compare these data with target fish species to identify opportunities for the improvement of selective fishery devices. The results from this project are valuable for the sustainability of Azorean fisheries, the sustainability of the ecotourism industry, and for the management and conservation of study species on a global scale.