Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



ICES Journal of Marine Science





First Page


Last Page



Relative abundance trends of highly migratory species (HMS) have played a central role in debates over the health of global fisheries. However, such trends have mostly been inferred from fishery catch rates, which can provide misleading signals of relative abundance. While many biases are accounted for through traditional catch rate standardization, pelagic habitat fished is rarely directly considered. Using a method that explicitly accounts for temperature regimes, we analysed data from the US pelagic longline fishery to estimate relative abundance trends for 34 HMS in the Atlantic Ocean from 1987 through 2013. This represents one of the largest studies of HMS abundance trends. Model selection emphasized the importance of accounting for pelagic habitat fished with water column temperature being included in nearly every species’ model, and in extreme cases, a temperature variable explained 50–60% of the total deviance. Our estimated trends represent observations from one fishery only, and a more integrated stock assessment should form the basis for conclusions about stock status overall. Nonetheless, our trends serve as indicators of stock abundance and they suggest that a majority of HMS (71% of analysed species) are either declining in relative abundance or declined initially with no evidence of rebuilding. Conversely, 29% of the species exhibited stable, increasing, or recovering trends; however, these trends were more prevalent among tunas than either billfishes or sharks. By estimating the effects of pelagic habitat on fishery catch rates, our results can be used in combination with ocean temperature trends and forecasts to support bycatch avoidance and other time-area management decisions.