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Infaunal community responses to a gradient of trawling disturbance and a long-term Fishery Exclusion Zone in the Southern Tyrrhenian Sea

January 16, 2014

Historically the majority of Mediterranean trawl fisheries occur on the continental shelf with a smaller proportion focused on the shelf slope and deep sea areas. Understanding how trawl fisheries affect the wider ecosystem is an important component of the ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. In this context the current study examined the impact of the otter trawl fishery on the infaunal communities found on the continental shelf and upper slope off the coast of Sicily and Calabria, Italy. A total of thirty six sites were sampled across a gradient of fishing intensity and from within a large bay from which trawling has been excluded for 22 years. Fishing intensities were ascertained post-hoc from Vessel Monitoring System data. Seabed characteristics of the sites studied were uniform across the continental shelf and slope areas that were studied, such that the only factor that varied was fishing intensity. The density index (DI) and total number of species (S) were significantly higher in the fishery closure area compared with other continental shelf sites. In particular, bioturbating decapod fauna occurred only within the fishery closure area. Fished sites were dominated primarily by burrowing deposit feeding worms, small bivalves and scavenging biota. In contrast, the response to fishing on the upper slope was less clear. This observation was treated with caution as the power to detect fishing effects was lower for the upper slope sites as a result of possible illegal fishing that had compromised two of the four replicate sites within the closed area. While the present study was able to quantify the effect of the demersal trawl fleet on the benthic infauna of the continental shelf, the effects of trawling on the upper shelf slope remain unclear and warrant further study.

Mangano M C, Kaiser M J, Porporato E M D, Lambert G I, Rinelli P, Spanò N, in press. Infaunal community responses to a gradient of trawling disturbance and a long-term Fishery Exclusion Zone in the Southern Tyrrhenian Sea, Continental Shelf Research, 2014, doi:10.1016/j.csr.2013.12.014. Article.

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