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Maverick Adams
Maverick Adams

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This potential for low survival following slipping is recognized in the management of the extensive Norwegian purse seine fisheries for Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus). To minimize detrimental effects on survivability, legislation dictates that if mackerel are to be slipped then the net must be opened before potentially harmful levels of crowding are reached and that the opening should be of sufficient size to ensure that the fish can swim out freely [22]. It is thought that Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) are more robust to the negative effects of slipping than mackerel [21] and consequently similar legislation does not exist for the Norwegian herring fishery. However, for both species, there is currently limited understanding of how the process of slipping itself impacts upon the welfare of the fish.


It is now well established that individual behaviour and behavioural change can be useful in determining the welfare status of fish [16,25,29,30]. However, as both mackerel and herring are obligate schoolers [31] and as such spend much of their lives interacting in tight polarized groups with conspecifics, our contention is that the welfare status of such fish is best determined by examination of not only their individual behaviour, but also their collective, school-level behaviour.


Spatial positions of mackerel and herring slipping events for Vessel A and Vessel B. Triangles denote slipping events not included in the analysis due to no behaviour being recorded; circles denote slipping events included in the analysis. Note that some points overlap.


The discharge opening was formed in the bunt end of the purse seine to allow fish escape. The positioning of cameras (and approximate filming orientation in green) for observation of behaviour is indicated: a) bridge camera to observe net hauling and discharge opening from the surface; b) horizontally orientated discharge camera; c) vertically orientated discharge camera and d) vertically orientated drop camera. See main text for further description of camera set up and slipping methodology. Adapted from [7], with permission IMR.


Estimated probability (with 95% confidence intervals) of a purse seine escape of any kind over time, for mackerel and herring. The lower panel shows the number of observed escape events per tenth-part of elapsed time. The dataset includes observations from both Vessel A and Vessel B.


The best adequate GLMM to explain the probability of a disorderly escape contained the fixed effects of vessel and an interaction between elapsed time and species (vessel LRT, df = 1, LRT = 4.05, p =


Estimated probability (with 95% confidence intervals) of a disorderly purse seine exit over time for mackerel and herring from Vessel A and Vessel B. The lower panels show the number of observed escape events per tenth-part of elapsed time.


Previous work on slipping has focused mainly on either small [20], mid-sized [17,57] or large-scale experiments [18,19,21] to estimate post slipping mortality and characterize physiological responses or has addressed specific topics such as the extent of slipping in particular fisheries [13]. [58] demonstrated that the method of slipping can significantly impact subsequent survival. However, none of these studies have examined behaviour or welfare implications in the field during the slipping process itself, although [59] showed impaired behaviour in response to predation following laboratory simulated slipping and [56] demonstrated that intra- and post-crowding behavioural responses could be used as a welfare indicator in mackerel.


If the welfare of slipped purse seine catches is to be ensured it is important to identify the causes of such behaviour. Species was a key determinant of disorderly escape behaviour; for mackerel, there was a higher tendency towards disorderly escapes compared to herring. This observation matches previous work demonstrating a higher mortality rate for mackerel [19] than herring [21] in large scale slipping trials and species-specific differences in the response to purse seine capture [66,67]. The reasons for these behavioural differences are likely linked to differences in sensory modalities and the ability to respond to stimuli associated with purse seine capture. For instance, mackerel are likely less sensitive to sound [66] and have stronger swimming ability than herring [68]. However, the key sense in the maintenance of schooling is vision [69], and as such, differences in the ability to detect visual stimuli or differing responses and reaction thresholds to visual stimuli likely account for the difference. Although [70] noted schooling mackerel turned or swam erratically in response to visual stimuli, no authors have examined differences in the school level responses to visual stimuli between the two species. Some species-specific regulation of slipping practices is incorporated in current legislation [22] but may need to be expanded to fully account for this effect. In light of the fact that slipping behaviour appears to be species specific, future studies should work to quantify behaviour in other species targeted by purse seine, such as capelin (Mallotus villosus) and sardine.


In all of the mixed modelling, the variance explained by the conditional effects was considerably larger than fixed effects alone, indicative of a high degree of variation in the manifestation of escape behaviour between different slipping events. Diversity in the behavioural response of different fish schools to purse seine capture has been observed previously [66,67,75,76]. In these cases, differences may have arisen due to differences in behavioural stimuli between different capture events, such as light levels between night and day [66,75] or the particular hydrographic conditions which may have altered vessel generated stimuli such as noise [76]. Other explanations include school specific factors such as difference in initial activity level [66] or position within the purse seine upon encirclement [67]. It is likely such factors also play an important role in determining the expression of slipping behaviour as well, and may therefore help to explain why we observed such large variations in behaviour between different slipping events. Factors such as biological condition (which varies considerably between seasons for mackerel and herring) or behavioural state of the school prior to encirclement may also influence subsequent slipping behaviour. For example, a school previously under attack from a predator can be expected to differ in response to capture than a school simply migrating. Of particular importance to slipping behaviour however may be wind and current conditions, which dictate the extent that side thruster propellers are used by the vessel. Thrusters likely introduce extreme auditory stimuli at close range to the fish, as well as deforming the shape of the net and should be monitored in future studies examining slipping behaviour. This said, the diversity of factors potentially affecting behaviour highlights the difficulty in minimizing welfare impacts on slipped catches in a consistent manner.


Although the effects of species and vessel could not be fully resolved by Dirchelet regression, the GLMM results indicate a clear effect of vessel in disorderly escape probability. Fish slipped from Vessel A had a higher probability of welfare compromising behaviour than fish from Vessel B for any given time during slipping. The reasons for this are likely related to vessel specific behavioural stimuli not encompassed by the covariates we monitored, as well as the particular handling style of the gear by the fishers. It should be noted that purse seine nets in the water are dynamic, adopting different shapes depending, in part, on how they are handled [2,55]. Therefore, net structure may cause localized areas of high schooling density, resulting in school structure breakdown. It is worthwhile to highlight that the vessel which minimized disorderly escape behaviour was the coastal vessel. Norwegian coastal purse seiners (including Vessel B, J. Saltskår, pers. comm.) have a tradition of live transfer and storage of catches to holding pens [61], to enable them to take catches in excess of their hold capacity as well as allowing some optimisation of when the catch is sold. This experience could result in more welfare friendly slipping practices. Whatever the explanation, it is encouraging that certain vessels have the capacity to release fish in a welfare friendly manner probably due primarily to their handling of the gear, and future work should focus on identifying these handling parameters. 041b061a72


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