Estimating Limit Reference Points for Western Pacific Leatherback Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in the U.S. West Coast EEZ

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December 13, 2019 - 9:27pm
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2015
Date published: 09/2015
Authors: Alexandra Curtis, Jeffrey Moore, Scott Benson
Journal title: PLOS ONE
Volume: 10
Issue: 9
Pages: e0136452

Biological limit reference points (LRPs) for fisheries catch represent upper bounds that avoid undesirable population states. LRPs can support consistent management evaluation among species and regions, and can advance ecosystem-based fisheries management. For transboundary species, LRPs prorated by local abundance can inform local management decisions when international coordination is lacking. We estimated LRPs for western Pacific leatherbacks in the U.S. West Coast Exclusive Economic Zone (WCEEZ) using three approaches with different types of information on local abundance. For the current application, the best-informed LRP used a local abundance estimate derived from nest counts, vital rate information, satellite tag data, and fishery observer data, and was calculated with a Potential Biological Removal estimator. Management strategy evaluation was used to set tuning parameters of the LRP estimators to satisfy risk tolerances for falling below population thresholds, and to evaluate sensitivity of population outcomes to bias in key inputs. We estimated local LRPs consistent with three hypothetical management objectives: allowing the population to rebuild to its maximum net productivity level (4.7 turtles per five years), limiting delay of population rebuilding (0.8 turtles per five years), or only preventing further decline (7.7 turtles per five years). These LRPs pertain to all human-caused removals and represent the WCEEZ contribution to meeting population management objectives within a broader international cooperative framework. We present multi-year estimates, because at low LRP values, annual assessments are prone to substantial error that can lead to volatile and costly management without providing further conservation benefit. The novel approach and the performance criteria used here are not a direct expression of the “jeopardy” standard of the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but they provide useful assessment information and could help guide international management frameworks. Given the range of abundance data scenarios addressed, LRPs should be estimable for many other areas, populations, and taxa.

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