Mobile fishing gear reduces benthic megafaunal production on Georges Bank

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This study addresses the effect of mobile fishing gear disturbance on benthic megafaunal production on the gravel pavement of northern Georges Bank. From 1994 to 2000, we sampled benthic megafauna with a 1 m Naturalists' dredge at shallow (47 to 62 m) and deep (80 to 90 m) sites. The cessation of fishing in large areas of Georges Bank in January 1995 allowed us to monitor changes in production at a previously disturbed site. Production at a shallow disturbed site varied little over the sampling period (32 to 57 kcal m-2 yr-1) and was markedly lower than production at the nearby recovering site, where production increased from 17 kcal m-2yr -1 in 1994 before the closure to 215 kcal m-2 yr -1 in 2000. Atlantic sea scallops Placopecten magellanicus and green sea urchins Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis dominated production at the recovering site. The community production:biomass ratio decreased over time at the recovering site as the sea scallop population matured. At the deep sites, production remained significantly higher at undisturbed sites (174 to 256 kcal m-2 yr-1) than at disturbed sites (30 to 52 kcal m -2 yr-1). The soft-bodied tube-building polychaete Thelepus cincinnatus dominated production at the undisturbed site, while hard-shelled bivalve molluscs Astarte spp. and P. magellanicus were prevalent at the disturbed site. Mobile fishing gear disturbance has a conspicuous effect on benthic megafaunal production in this hard-bottom habitat. Cessation of mobile fishing has resulted in a marked increase in benthic megafaunal production. These findings should help fishery managers to gauge the costs and benefits of management tools such as area closures and low-impact fishing gears.

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Marine Ecology Progress Series