Symposium Abstract: Results of a Workshop on the Effects of Fishing Gear on Benthic Habitats off the Northeastern United States
L. A. Chiarella, D. K. Stevenson, C. D. Stephan, R. N. Reid, J. E. McCarthy, M. W. Pentony, T. B. Hoff, C. D. Selberg, and K. A. Johnson
A panel of experts in the fields of benthic ecology, fishery ecology, geology, fishing gear technology and operations were convened in October 2001 to assist the Northeast Region’s fishery management councils in evaluating the effects of fishing gear on local benthic habitats and identifying potential management measures. The panel expressed greatest overall concern about impacts from otter trawls and scallop dredges to structure forming organisms. Gravel habitat was considered to be most at risk from gear impacts, followed by sand and mud habitats. In some circumstances the extent of impact in each habitat varied based on the environment’s energy level (high vs. low energy). In general, bottom tending mobile gear was of greater concern than fixed gear. Clam dredges were rated as having the least effect of the mobile gears because of the limited geographic area and the rapid recovery rates of the high energy sand environment in which they are fished. Scallop dredges were rated as having large effects in the gravel and sand habitats in which they are fished. Panelists had the greatest difficulty reaching consensus on the impacts of otter trawls due to their widespread use over a large variety of habitat types as well as the numerous gear configurations employed. The three primary management measures proposed to reduce fishing gear impacts included effort reductions, spatial closures, and gear modifications.