Habitat Impacts

Sensitive habit (Credit: NOAA)

Following overfishing, the destruction of marine habitat, from all sources, is acknowledged as greatest threat to marine diversity. While the entire aquatic environment is considered fish habitat, when referring to the impacts of fishing on habitat the focus is on the seafloor and associated structure-forming species including but not limited to cold-water corals, sponges, hydroids, bryozoans and seaweed.

Fishing gear that makes contact with the seafloor has different levels of impact, depending on the gear type, and the intensity and frequency of contact.  Bottom trawling and dredging pose the highest risk to the seafloor and its associated species, with impacts lasting decades to centuries in areas where cold water corals and sponges occur. Bottom longlines and traps also have impacts, but to a much lesser extent.

Caution: Sensitive Bottom Many of the world’s fisheries are transitioning toward an ecosystem approach. This requires understanding and managing the impacts of the gear types on the seafloor. In particular fisheries management needs to ensure that structure-forming species are not being destroyed and that the bottom contact is on habitats that are accustomed to some level of disturbance (e.g.  shallow sandy areas).  Identifying and protecting sensitive seafloor habitats is a first step toward managing these impacts. This can be done through scientific surveys and with direct collaborations with the fishing industry. The fishery stands to be direct beneficiaries of strong habitat protection and therefore should be the strongest advocates.
The best thing to do is to incentivize fisheries to protect seafloor habitats by supporting those fisheries that have addressed habitat concerns. Search for sustainable seafood.