Emergent interactions in the management of multiple threats to the conservation of harbour porpoises

David Lusseau*, Lotte Kindt-Larsen, Floris M. van Beest

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Human activities at sea are intensifying and diversifying. This is leading to more complex interactions of anthropogenic impacts requiring adaptable management interventions to mitigate their cumulative effects on biodiversity conservation and restoration objectives. Bycatch remains the dominant conservation threat for coastal cetaceans. Additionally, the indirect impact of repeated exposure to disturbances, particularly acoustic disturbances, can affect cetacean population growth and therefore conservation objectives. Pingers are used to ensonify nets to provide an effective mitigation of bycatch risk. As those become more prevalent across fisheries at risk to catch for example harbour porpoises, pingers become contributors to the anthropogenic noise landscape which may affect the vital rates of this species as well. Currently, we do not know how to best balance pinger prevalence to minimise both bycatch rate and the population consequences of acoustic disturbance (PCoD). Here we use an agent-based model to determine how pinger prevalence in nets can be adjusted to minimise bycatch rate and noise disturbance propagating to affect population growth for harbour porpoises. We show that counter-intuitively bycatch rate can increase at lower pinger prevalence. When ecological conditions are such that PCOD can emerge, higher prevalence of pingers can lead to indirect effects on population growth. This would result from condition-mediated decreased reproductive potential. Displacing fishing effort, via time-area closure, can be an effective mitigation strategy in these circumstances. These findings have important implications for current management plans which, for practical consideration, may lead to lower overall pinger prevalence at sea. This study also shows that estimating the reproductive potential of the species should be incorporated in bycatch monitoring programmes. We now need to better understand how physiological condition affect reproductive decisions and behavioural responses to noise in cetaceans to better appraise and estimate the cumulative impacts of bycatch and its mitigations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number158936
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Cumulative impact
  • Conservation objective
  • Management strategy
  • Bycatch
  • PCoMS
  • PCoD
  • Harbour porpoise
  • Phocoena phocoena
  • Muti-agent based model


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