Benthic Habitats and the Effects of Fishing

Symposium Abstract: Why Fishing Gear Impact Studies Don’t Tell Us What We Need to Know

L. Watling and C. Skinder

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569605.ch102

The late 1990s saw several comprehensive reviews of the impact of mobile fishing gear on benthic communities published in the scientific literature. In particular, the review of Auster and Langton offered several tables detailing the results of individual studies. We have updated this review and examined the studies for their predictive value. That is, we ask, can the studies that have been done be used in very different geographic areas, or in unexamined habitats, to assess potential impacts of mobile fishing gear? We suggest that most of the studies conducted to date are very good at telling us what has happened, but will give limited or inaccurate information about what will happen, or perhaps has happened in an unstudied area. The lack of predictive capability of most studies results from the fact that they have relied on an examination of spatial patterns rather than understanding the underlying processes which result in the benthic community structure observed. In some studies it has been concluded that fishing gear will have no measurable impact in some habitats. In this paper we take a first principles approach and argue that were certain variables measured, such as sediment food quality, and were the studies done at the appropriate scale, impacts that were missed would have been seen. Changing the way trawling studies are conducted will offer greater potential for predictive capability.