"Despite our efforts to predict the outcome of fishing activities for existing seafloor communities, we are often unable to determine the original composition of the fauna because data gathered prior to the era of intensive bottom fishing are sparse," said Collie. "This is an important consideration because recent analyses of the few existing historical datasets suggest that larger bodied fish and invertebrates were more prevalent prior to intensive bottom trawling."
Collies analysis also considered the species patterns of recovery. Recovery of any species was rarely less than 100 days, with most species recovering in closer to 500 days. The most rapid recovery occurs in sand, indicating that the species in this habitat could withstand 2-3 incidents of physical disturbance per year without changing markedly in character. On the other hand, intensively fished areas are likely to be maintained in a permanently altered state, inhabited by organisms adapted to frequent physical disturbance.
The article also cites studies that suggest that recovery rates for sponge and coral habitats off the western coast of Australia may exceed 15 years.
"Our initial theories about how bottom fishing affects species living in the sediments or near the bottom of the ocean are generally supported by this analysis," said Collie. "There are still substantial gaps in the available data that urgently need to be filled."
The study arose from a joint initiative by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and the Scientific Committee for Oceanic Research. Other members of the scientific team include Stephen J. Hall of the Flinders University of South Australia, Michel J. Kaiser of the University of Wales School of Ocean Sciences, and Ian R. Poiner of A
Contact: Lisa Cugini
University of Rhode Island