MEPS 162:227-242 (1998)  -  doi:10.3354/meps162227

Effects of physical trawling disturbance in a previously unfished sheltered Scottish sea loch

Ian D. Tuck*, Stephen J. Hall**, Mike R. Robertson, Eric Armstrong, David J. Basford

Fisheries Research Services, Marine Laboratory Aberdeen (FRS MLA), PO Box 101, Victoria Rd, Aberdeen AB11 9DB, Scotland, UK
**Present address: School of Biological Sciences, Flinders University of South Australia, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, South Australia 5001, Australia

The effects of trawling disturbance on a benthic community were investigated with a manipulative field experiment in a fine muddy habitat that has been closed to fishing for over 25 yr. We examined the effects of extensive and repeated experimental trawl disturbance over an 18 mo period on benthic community structure and also followed the subsequent patterns of recovery over a further 18 mo. During the period of trawl disturbance the number of species and individuals increased and measures of diversity (Shannon's exponential H' and Simpson's reciprocal D) and evenness decreased in the trawled area relative to the reference site. The cirratulid polychaetes Chaetozone setosa and Caulleriella zetlandica were found to be most resistant to disturbance, whilst the bivalve Nuculanitidosa and polychaetes Scolopolos armiger and Nephtys cirrosa were identified as sensitive species. Multivariate analysis and abundance biomass comparison plots confirmed that community changes occurred following disturbance, with some differences between treatment and reference sites still apparent after 18 mo of recovery. Physical effects, examined with Side-scan and RoxAnn, were identifiable immediately after disturbance, but were almost indistinguishable after 18 mo of recovery. Such long recovery times suggest that even fishing during a restricted period of the year may be sufficient to maintain communities occupying fine muddy sediment habitats in an altered state.

Fishing disturbance · Physical disturbance · Trawling · Community dynamics

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