A world-wide study of the impacts of bottom trawling has found that seabeds are in good health where trawl fisheries are sustainably managed.
The first study of its kind, by Bangor University with collaborating research institutes, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS w/c 3.1.22) builds on recent international collaboration. It brings together data from 24 large marine regions around the world to establish a relationship between distribution and intensity of trawling activities and the health of seafloor communities.
Researchers assessed life on the seabed ascribing a status score between 0-1, where 0 is impacted and 1 is unimpacted. 15 regions studied were in a good condition with a status greater than 0.9, while three had a degraded status of less than 0.7. In all regions combined, 1.5% of all seabed area studied were in a very poor condition with a status of 0.
Lead author marine scientist Dr Roland Pitcher of CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Brisbane, Australia, said that the study shows that good management of fisheries contributes to better outcomes for the broader ecosystem.
Referring to the scores ascribed in the study he said:
“The results show that effectively managed and sustainable trawl fisheries are associated with regions having high seabed status of 0.95 or more,”
“Regions that had low seabed status scores were places where fish stocks typically are over-exploited and have ineffective management regimes.”
“Detailed data were not available for all jurisdictions where bottom trawling occurs, but importantly, this study provides the world’s first statistics to estimate the impact of global trawling and provides an evidence base to inform effective improvements to trawling practices worldwide.
University of Washington, Seattle, fisheries scientist Professor Ray Hilborn added that the research demonstrated the power of global collaboration for fisheries research:
“By bringing these data together from across 24 large marine regions of the world we are able to establish foundational statistical relationships between trawling activities, their impacts, and ecosystem status, including implications of trawl-gear choices and spatial distributions of trawl intensity.”
“This research is a critical step in moving towards an overall estimate of the global impact of trawling, and understanding the steps required to improve fisheries management, reduce exploitation, improve stock sustainability and the status of the seabed environment.”
“The study also showed that regional seabed status may be predicted from simple metrics of a region’s total amount of trawling, enabling preliminary assessments needed to improve trawl management in developing countries where data is limited.”
Prof Hiddink of Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences said:
“When comparing the seafood production versus the impacts of bottom trawling relative to other human land-use footprints in the UK, like agriculture, is it clear that the footprint of bottom trawls around the UK is large, but that the impact of trawling in much of this footprint is limited.”
“Nevertheless, many areas are intensely trawled and have low seabed status, for example in muddy areas where Norway lobster is targeted in the Irish Sea using otter trawls – these areas are priorities for new research to map sensitive seabed habitats and assess their exposure to and risks from trawling. The work provides a valuable data source and guidance for policy makers and managers seeking to manage commercial trawl fisheries sustainably.”
The full report is available at https://www.pnas.org/content/119/2/e2109449119