Exploring the degree of trawling disturbance by the analysis of benthic communities ranging from a heavily exploited fishing ground to an undisturbed area in the NW Mediterranean
Keywords:benthos, community composition, ecosystem management, fishing, marine reserves, Mediterranean Sea
This study focuses on 4 sites in the northwestern Mediterranean to investigate the response of benthic fauna across a gradient of trawling impact. One site was located in a heavily exploited fishing ground. The second site was enclosed in the fishing ground but had not been trawled in twenty years. The third site was located adjacent to a marine protected area and was subjected to occasional trawling. The fourth site was located inside the marine protected area, where trawling was banned thirty years ago. Side-scan sonar records of trawl marks on the seabed confirmed the gradient of trawling intensity. We investigated the response of benthic fauna to trawling disturbance at the mesoscale of a fishing ground. We compared the observed patterns of abundance, biomass, diversity and community structure for epifauna and infauna with responses predicted from previous studies. Results showed that those communities less impacted by trawling sustained more biogenically habitat-structured communities (e.g. more abundance of sessile suspension feeders at the less disturbed sites against higher dominance of small invertebrates at the disturbed site). Moreover, these results confirm the benefits of restricting trawling activities for benthic communities, with marine reserves as the paradigm for the conservation of Mediterranean fishing grounds.
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