Benthic Habitats and the Effects of Fishing

Ecosystem Consequences of Bottom Fishing Disturbance

Simon Jennings, Steve Freeman, Ruth Parker, Daniel E. Duplisea, and Tracy A. Dinmore

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569605.ch6

Abstract. We review the impacts of towed gears on benthic habitats and communities and predict the consequences of these impacts for ecosystem processes. Our emphasis is on the additive and synergistic large-scale effects of fishing, and we assess how changes in the distribution of fishing activity following management action are likely to affect production, turnover time, and nutrient fluxes in ecosystems. Analyses of the large-scale effects of fishing disturbance show that the initial effects of fishing on a habitat have greater ecosystem consequences than repeated fishing in fished areas. As a result, patchy fishing effort distributions have lower total impacts on the ecosystem than random or uniform effort distributions. In most fisheries, the distribution of annual fishing effort within habitats is more patchy than random, and patterns of effort are maintained from year to year. Our analyses suggest that many vulnerable species and habitats have only persisted in heavily fished ecosystems because effort is patchy. Ecosystem-based fisheries management involves taking account of the ecosystem effects of fishing when setting management objectives. One step that can be taken toward ecosystem-based fisheries management is to make an a priori assessment of the ecosystem effects of proposed management actions such as catch controls, effort controls, and technical measures. We suggest a process for predicting the ecosystem consequences of management action. This requires information on habitat distributions, models to predict changes in the spatial distribution of fleets following management action, and models of the impacts of trawling disturbance on ecosystem processes. For each proposed management action, the change in disturbance affecting different habitat types would be predicted and used to forecast the consequences for the ecosystem. These simulations would be used to produce a decision table, quantifying the consequences of alternative management actions. Actions that minimize the ecosystem effects of fishing could then be identified. In data-poor situations, we suggest that management strategies that maintain or maximize the patchiness of effort within habitat types are more consistent with the precautionary approach than those that lead to more uniform fishing effort distributions.