The Caspian seal (Pusa caspica) has declined by more than 90% since 1900 and is listed as endangered by IUCN. We made the first quantitative assessment of Caspian seal by-catch mortality in fisheries in the north Caspian Sea by conducting semi-structured interviews in fishing communities along the coasts of Russia (Kalmykia, Dagestan), Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. We recorded a documented minimum by-catch of 1,215 seals in the survey sample, for the 2008-2009 fishing season, 93% of which occurred in illegal sturgeon fisheries. Due to the illegal nature of the fishery, accurately quantifying total fishing effort is problematic and the survey sample could reflect less than 10% of poaching activity in the north Caspian Sea. Therefore total annual by-catch may be significantly greater than the minimum documented by the survey. The presence of high by-catch rates was supported independently by evidence of net entanglement from seal carcasses, during a mass stranding on the Kazakh coast in May 2009, where 30 of 312 carcasses were entangled in large mesh sturgeon net remnants. The documented minimum by-catch may account for 5 to 19% of annual pup production. Sturgeon poaching therefore not only represents a serious threat to Caspian sturgeon populations, but may also be having broader impacts on the Caspian Sea ecosystem by contributing to a decline in one of the ecosystem's key predators. This study demonstrates the utility of interview-based approaches in providing rapid assessments of by-catch in illegal small-scale fisheries, which are not amenable to study by other methods. © 2013 Dmitrieva et al.
Dmitrieva, L., Kondakov, A. A., Oleynikov, E., Kydyrmanov, A., Karamendin, K., Kasimbekov, Y., … Goodman, S. J. (2013). Assessment of Caspian Seal By-Catch in an Illegal Fishery Using an Interview-Based Approach. PLoS ONE, 8(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0067074