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A Comparison of Seafloor Habitats and Associtated Benthic Fauna in Areas Open and Closed to Bottom Trawling Along the Central California Continental Shelf

Author(s): de Marignac, J.; J. Hyland; J. Lindholm; A. DeVogelaere; W.L. Balthis; D. Kline


Publication Type: NOAA Technical Reports

Journal Title: Marine Sanctuaries Conservation Series ONMS-09-02

Date of Publication: 2009

Reference Information: 44 pages

Keywords: Fishing gear impacts; bottom trawling disturbances; National Marine Sanctuaries; central California continental shelf; seafloor microhabitats; benthic fauna

Abstract: : A number of studies have shown that mobile, bottom-contact fishing gear (such as otter trawls) can alter seafloor habitats and associated biota. Considerably less is known about the recovery of these resources following such disturbances, though this information is critical for successful management. In part, this paucity of information can be attributed to the lack of access to adequate control sites – areas of the seafloor that are closed to fishing activity. Recent closures along the coast of central California provide an excellent opportunity to track the recovery of historically trawled areas and to compare recovery rates to adjacent areas that continue to be trawled. In June 2006 we initiated a multi-year study of the recovery of seafloor microhabitats and associated benthic fauna inside and outside two new Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) closures within the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries. Study sites inside the EFH closure at Cordell Bank were located in historically active areas of fishing effort, which had not been trawled since 2003. Sites outside the EFH closure in the Gulf of Farallones were located in an area that continues to be actively trawled. All sites were located in unconsolidated sands at equivalent water depths. Video and still photographic data collected via a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) were used to quantify the abundance, richness, and diversity of microhabitats and epifaunal macro-invertebrates at recovering and actively trawled sites, while bottom grabs and conductivity/temperature/depth (CTD) casts were used to quantify infaunal diversity and to characterize local environmental conditions. Analysis of still photos found differences in common seafloor microhabitats between the recovering and actively trawled areas, while analysis of videographic data indicated that biogenic mound and biogenic depression microhabitats were significantly less abundant at trawled sites. Each of these features provides structure with which demersal fishes, across a wide range of size classes, have been observed to associate. Epifaunal macro-invertebrates were sparsely distributed and occurred in low numbers in both treatments. However, their total abundance was significantly different between treatments, which was attributable to lower densities at trawled sites. In addition, the dominant taxa were different between the two sites. Patchily-distributed buried brittle stars dominated the recovering site, and sea whips (Halipteris cf. willemoesi) were most numerous at the trawled site though they occurred in only five of ten transects. Numerical classification (cluster analysis) of the infaunal samples also revealed a clear difference between benthic assemblages in the recovering vs. trawled areas due to differences in the relative abundances of component species. There were no major differences in infaunal species richness, H' diversity, or J' evenness between recovering vs. trawled site groups. Howev

Availability: (1) Marine Sanctuaries Conservation Series website, (2) NCCOS publication website, or (3) Lead Author (Jean de Marignac, MBNMS) (

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