Modelling potential impacts of bottom trawl fisheries on soft sediment biogeochemistry in the North Sea

Daniel E. Duplisea, Simon Jennings, Stephen J. Malcolm, Ruth Parker, David B. Sivyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Bottom trawling causes physical disturbance to sediments particularly in shelf areas. The disturbance due to trawling is most significant in deeper areas with softer sediments where levels of natural disturbance due to wave and tidal action are low. In heavily fished areas, trawls may impact the same area of seabed more than four times per year. A single pass of a beam trawl, the heaviest gear routinely used in shelf sea fisheries, can kill 5-65% of the resident fauna and mix the top few cm of sediment. We expect that sediment community function, carbon mineralisation and biogeochemical fluxes will be strongly affected by trawling activity because the physical effects of trawling are equivalent to those of an extreme bioturbator, and yet, unlike bioturbating macrofauna, trawling does not directly contribute to community metabolism. We used an existing box-model of a generalised soft sediment system to examine the effects of trawling disturbance on carbon mineralisation and chemical concentrations. We contrasted the effects of a natural scenario, where bioturbation is a function of macrobenthos biomass, with an anthropogenic impact scenario where physical disturbance results from trawling rather than the action of bioturbating macrofauna. Simulation results suggest that the effects of low levels of trawling disturbance will be similar to those of natural bioturbators but that high levels of trawling disturbance prevent the modelled system from reaching equilibrium due to large carbon fluxes between oxic and anoxic carbon compartments. The presence of macrobenthos in the natural disturbance scenario allowed sediment chemical storage and fluxes to reach equilibrium. This is because the macrobenthos are important carbon consumers in the system whose presence reduces the magnitude of available carbon fluxes. In soft sediment systems, where the level physical disturbance due to waves and tides is low, model results suggest that intensive trawling disturbance could cause large fluctuations in benthic chemical fluxes and storage.
Original languageEnglish
Article number112
JournalGeochemical Transactions
Volume2
Issue number14
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2001

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