Defining the habitats of fishes and associated fauna on outer continental shelves is problematic given the paucity of data on the actual types and distributions of seafloor habitats. However many regions have good data on the distributions of fishes from resource surveys or catch statistics because of the economic importance of the fisheries. Fish distribution data (species or communities) have been used as a proxy for the distribution of habitats to develop precautionary conservation strategies for habitat protection (e.g., marine protected areas, fishing gear restrictions). In this study we assessed the relationships between the distributions of fish communities and species derived from trawl survey data with the spatial distribution of sediment types determined by sampling and acoustic reflectance derived from multibeam sonar surveys in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Fish communities were correlated with reflectance values but all communities did not occur in unique sediment types. This suggests that use of community distributions as proxies for habitats should include the caveat that a greater number of communities within an area could indicate a greater range of habitat types. Single species distributions showed relationships between abundance and reflectance values. Trawl catches with low abundances had wide variations in reflectance values while those with high abundances had narrower ranges indicating habitat affinities. Significant non-random frequency-dependent relationships were observed for 17 of 20 species although only 12 of 20 species had significant relationships based on rank correlation. These results suggest that species distributions based on trawl survey data can be used as proxies for the distribution of seafloor habitats. Species with known habitat associations can be used to infer habitat requirements of co-occurring species and can be used to identify a range of habitat types.
Additional Publication Details
Fish species and community distributions as proxies for seafloor habitat distributions: The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary example (Northwest Atlantic, Gulf of Maine)