eDNA based bycatch assessment in pelagic fish catches

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Pelagic fish like herring, sardines, and mackerel constitute an essential and nutritious human food source globally. Their sustainable harvest is promoted by the application of precise, accurate, and cost-effective methods for estimating bycatch. Here, we experimentally test the new concept of using eDNA for quantitative bycatch assessment on the illustrative example of the Baltic Sea sprat fisheries with herring bycatch. We investigate the full pipeline from sampling of production water on vessels and in processing factories to the estimation of species weight fractions. Using a series of controlled mixture experiments, we demonstrate that the eDNA signal from production water shows a strong, seasonally consistent linear relationship with herring weight fractions, however, the relationship is influenced by the molecular method used (qPCR or metabarcoding). In four large sprat landings analyzed, despite examples of remarkable consistency between eDNA and visual reporting, estimates of herring bycatch biomass varied between the methods applied, with the eDNA-based estimates having the highest precision for all landings analyzed. The eDNA-based bycatch assessment method has the potential to improve the quality and cost effectiveness of bycatch assessment in large pelagic fisheries catches and in the long run lead to more sustainable management of pelagic fish as a precious marine resource.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2976
JournalScientific Reports
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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