Effects on individual level behaviour in mackerel (Scomber scombrus) of sub-lethal capture related stressors: Crowding and hypoxia
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Stress to fish during harvest in wild capture fisheries is known to negatively influence subsequent survival in catches that are released. Therefore, if fisheries are to be conducted sustainably, there is a need to promote good fish welfare during the capture process. Purse seine fishing is a widespread and efficient fishing method. However, capture and release of fish from purse seines (a process called “slipping”) can result in extremely high mortality in small pelagic schooling species. The objective of this study was to establish behavioural indicators of sub-lethal stress in Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) that may be used to set safe threshold limits for use in commercial purse seine fishing, in order to ensure good fish welfare and thereby minimise slipping mortality. Controlled mesocosm scale experiments with schools of mackerel in net pens were undertaken to determine behavioural responses to simulated purse seine capture stressors of “crowding”, “hypoxia” and “crowding & hypoxia”. Crowding (at 30 kg.m^-3) was achieved by reducing the volume of the net pen, while hypoxia (to 40% oxygen saturation) was achieved by surrounding the net pen with a tarpaulin bag to prevent water exchange. Using video analysis, we investigated behavioural responses in nearest neighbour distances, nearest neighbour angular deviations, tail beat amplitude and tail beat frequency (TBF). Of the metrics considered, only TBF showed a response; a significant increase to “crowding” (42% increase) and “crowding & hypoxia” (38% increase) was found. The increase in TBF in response to “hypoxia” alone (29% increase) was not significant. We therefore conclude that increases in tail beat frequency may be used as an indicator of sub-lethal purse seine capture stress in mackerel that may have utility in minimising post slipping mortality.