The abundance and orientation of trawl marks was quantified over an extensive portion (>2700 km2) of the Eureka, California, outer shelf and slope, an important commercial bottom trawling ground for such high-value species as rockfish, sole, and sablefish. Fishing logbook data indicate that the entire reporting area was trawled about one and a half times on an average annual basis and that some areas were trawled over three times annually. High-resolution sidescan-sonar images of the study area revealed deep gouges on the seafloor, caused by heavy steel trawl doors that act to weigh down and spread open the bottom trawls. These trawl marks are commonly oriented parallel to bathymetric contours and many could be traced for several kilometers. Trawl marks showed a quadratic relationship in relation to water depth, with the greatest number of trawl marks observed at ~400 m. There was a significant positive correlation between the number of trawl marks observed on the sidescan images and the number of annual trawl hours logged within reporting areas. This finding indicates that acoustic remote sensing is a promising independent approach to evaluate fishing effort on a scale consistent with commercial fishing activities. Bottom trawling gear is known to modify seafloor habitats by altering benthic habitat complexity and by removing or damaging infauna and sessile organisms. Identifying the extent of trawling in these areas may help determine the effects of this type of fishing gear on the benthos and develop indices of habitat disturbance caused by fishing activities.
Additional publication details
Sidescan-sonar mapping of benthic trawl marks on the shelf and slope off Eureka, California