Photographic evaluation of the impacts of bottom fishing on benthic epifauna

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The gravel sediment habitat on the northern edge of Georges Bank (East coast of North America) is an important nursery area for juvenile fish, and the site of a productive scallop fishery. During two cruises to this area in 1994 we made photographic transects at sites of varying depths that experience varying degrees of disturbance from otter trawling and scallop dredging. Differences between sites were quantified by analyzing videos and still photographs of the sea bottom. Videos were analyzed for sediment types and organism abundance. In the still photos, the percentages of the bottom covered by bushy, plant-like organisms and colonial worm tubes (Filograna implexa) were determined, as was the presence/absence of encrusting bryozoa. Non-colonial organisms were also identified as specifically as possible and sediment type was quantified. Significant differences between disturbed and undisturbed areas were found for the variables measured in the still photos; colonial epifaunal species were conspicuously less abundant at disturbed sites. Results from the videos and still photos were generally consistent although less detail was visible in the videos. Emergent colonial epifauna provide a complex habitat for shrimp, polychaetes, brittle stars and small fish at undisturbed sites. Bottom fishing removes this epifauna, thereby reducing the complexity and species diversity of the benthic community. (C) 2000 International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

ICES Journal of Marine Science