Research and conservation efforts to reduce Franciscana dolphin deaths in fishing nets have been a major focus of my efforts for decades. In October 2015, the Argentinean government through the Federal Fishery Council approved the National Action Plan for the Conservation of Marine Mammals (PAN MM), focused on interactions with fisheries. This initiative was the result of a participatory process with the cooperation of national and provincial government agencies, scientific and academic institutions, and Non-Governmental Organizations. It was also part of other national conservation action plans for sharks and rays, seabirds, and sea turtles, which seek to contribute to ecosystem management of fisheries in the Argentine Sea. During this process, it was clearly established that some species require particular attention due to their conservation status, and the Franciscana dolphin was considered the most threatened marine mammal in the Argentine Sea.
The implementation of acoustic pingers to make dolphins aware of the presence of fishing nets to mitigate their bycatch in gillnet fisheries, and the development of habitat use and zoning maps for conservation and management were recommended as short-term actions in the PAN MM. The Action Plan confirmed that our previous efforts evaluating the effectiveness of pingers and other bycatch mitigation tools, and the study of the home range and habitat use of Franciscana initiated more than a decade ago, have been worthwhile, and have conservation management implications for the species in Argentina.
In the next months, a trial implementation of pingers will be conducted in Bahia Samborombon. Since 2005, habitat use studies of Franciscana dolphins, as defined through radio and satellite-linked tracking, have been conducted in this region in collaboration with SDRP. The tracking studies allowed us to understand the overlap of habitat use with gillnet distribution, and to establish areas of highest bycatch risk. We found that these areas were not necessarily the areas with the highest fishing effort. Our previous work has improved knowledge of the behavioral ecology of the species, but also anticipated the priority needs and conservation actions for Franciscana. Our results provide relevant information for appropriate experimental design and fishery management initiatives in an area inhabited by an isolated dolphin population with the highest bycatch rate in the Argentine Sea. We are planning to establish a gillnet-free area based on the home ranges identified, bycatch rates reported, and fishing effort distribution. We will also conduct a pinger trial outside this area.
This article appeared on page 9 of the 2017 SDRP Annual Report, Nicks n Notches.