Bottom trawling causes widespread disturbance to the sediments in shallow-shelf seas. The resultant mortality of benthic fauna is strongly size dependent. We empirically demonstrate that beam trawling frequency in the central North Sea had a greater effect on fauna size distribution in a soft sediment benthic community than variables such as sediment particle size and water depth. Accordingly, we simulated the impacts of trawling disturbance on benthos using a model consisting of 37 organism size classes between 1 µg and 140 g wet weight. The model produced a production-biomass versus size relationship consistent with published studies and allowed us to predict the impacts of trawling frequency on benthos size distributions. Outputs were consistent with empirical data; however, at high yet realistic trawling frequencies, the model predicted an extirpation of most macrofauna. Empirical data show that macrofauna persist in many heavily trawled regions; therefore, we suggest that trawling by real fisheries is sufficiently heterogeneous to provide spatial refuges less impacted by trawling. If correct, our analyses suggest that fishery management measures that do not reduce total effort but do lead to effort displacement and spatial homogenization (e.g., temporarily closed areas) may have adverse effects on the systemic persistence of intermediate- and large-sized macrofauna.
|Number of pages||11|
|Journal||Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences|
|Publication status||Published - 2002|