Benthic Habitats and the Effects of Fishing

Symposium Abstract: Identification and Evaluation of Indicators for Environmental Performance of European Marine Fisheries

L.-H. Larsen, A. Zenetos, and N. Streftaris


Fishing activities are known to have significant effects not only on target species, but also on the wider marine environment. This is a result of the incidental catch of non-target species, and physical disturbance of benthic habitats and communities from bottom fishing gear. Indirect effects of forced ecosystem changes are also known from intensive fishing areas. The Central Fisheries Policy (CFP) of the European Union, implemented some twenty years ago, is now facing a major challenge because its contribution to sustainable, environmental performance within European marine fisheries is not well defined or explained. A scoping study has been undertaken for the identification of environmental performance indicators for the fisheries in the greater European (EU + EFTA) waters. Of the 23 indicators, two are directly relevant to fishing and benthic habitat concerns. These are ‘Loss of fishing gear’ and ‘Physical damage to habitats and species’. The report compiles results on habitat and species alterations from more than 100 individual national and European wide research projects on the interactions between fisheries and the environment. These studies collectively resulted in more than 1000 individual scientific publications. The methodology of the scoping study is presented, including criteria for selection of indicators. The data compilation on one indicator ‘physical damage to habitats and species’ and other indicators relevant to this symposium are described and illustrated. Examples of habitat alterations are given from European (North Sea benthic trawling) and Arctic (Barents Sea shrimp trawling) fisheries and implications for management practice and the CFP are presented.