Mobile fishing gear reduces seafloor habitat complexity through the removal of structure-building fauna, e.g. emergent organisms that create pits and burrows, as well as by smoothing of sedimentary bedforms (e.g. sand ripples). In this study, we compared the relative abundance of microhabitat features (the scale at which individual fish associate with seafloor habitat) inside and outside of a large fishery closed area (6917 km2) on Georges Bank. Starting in late 1994, the closed area excluded all bottom tending fishing gear capable of capturing demersal fishes. A total of 32 stations were selected inside and outside of the closed area in sand habitats. Video and still photographic transects were conducted at each station using the Seabed Observation and Sampling System (SEABOSS). Seven common (i.e. featureless sand, rippled sand, sand with emergent fauna, bare gravelly sand, gravelly sand with attached-erect fauna, whole shell, shell fragment) and 2 rare (sponges, biogenic depressions) microhabitat types were compared separately. Results showed significant differences in the relative abundance of the shell fragment and sponge microhabitat types between fished and unfished areas. The lack of differences for the other microhabitats may indicate that the level of fishing activity in the area is matched by the system's ability to recover.
Additional publication details
Role of a large marine protected area for conserving landscape attributes of sand habitats on Georges Bank (NW Atlantic)
Marine Ecology Progress Series
Coastal and Marine Geology Program, Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center