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Fishing-Gear Restrictions and Conservation of Benthic Habitat Complexity

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When two commercially important marine species coexist in the same habitat, conflict may arise between different sectors of the fishing industry. A good example of this situation is when fishers using towed bottom-fishing gear ( scallop dredges, beam trawls, and otter trawls) operate in the same areas in which fixed-bottom gear ( crab pots) are deployed. We examined an area subject to a voluntary agreement between these two sectors of the fishing industry such that some areas are used exclusively by fixed-gear fishers, some are shared seasonally by both sectors, and others are open to all methods of fishing all year. This agreement was enacted to resolve conflict between the two sectors of the industry. An additional possible benefit of this agreement is the protection of the seabed from towed bottom-fishing gear, which is one of the greatest sources of anthropogenic disturbance of seabed habitats worldwide. Previous studies have demonstrated that complex emergent epifaunal communities are substantially altered by such activities. This habitat alteration in turn influences closely associated species, some of which may be of commercial importance. We undertook comparative surveys of the benthic habitat and communities within the area covered by the agreement and compared different areas subjected to a range of fishing disturbance regimes. Communities found within the areas closed to towed fishing gears were significantly different from those open to fishing either permanently or seasonally. Abundance-biomass curves demonstrated that the communities within the closed areas were dominated by higher biomass and emergent fauna that increased habitat complexity. Areas fished by towed gear were dominated by smaller-bodied fauna and scavenging taxa. Scallop dredges and beam trawls used on more stable habitats appear to have greater impacts on the environment than lighter otter trawls used in shallower water with less stable sediments. It would appear from our data that conflict management in the form of gear-restriction measures has the added benefit of conserving habitats and benthic fauna sensitive to bottom-fishing disturbance.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Ocean Sciences, University of Wales–Bangor, Menai Bridge, Gwynedd LL59 5EY, United Kingdom 2: Department of Biology, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, United Kingdom

Publication date: October 1, 2000

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