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Vulnerable ecosystems discovered near deep-sea trawl fishery - Zoological Society of London

Leading conservation charity ZSL provides vital new evidence to inform sustainable marine management in the region

Vulnerable deep-sea species and habitats have been identified for the first time in the Davis Strait, west Greenland, near areas currently subject to extensive trawling for halibut.

Trawling creates significant impact on the sea floor, destroying or degrading precious marine habitats. The discovery of deep-sea vulnerable marine ecosystems such as 'fields' of sea-pens (Halipteris finmarchica), along with other coral and sponge habitats in this area, is cause for concern, according to experts from ZSL (Zoological Society London), University College London (UCL), and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (GINR) in a paper published today (Wednesday 8 September 2021) in the ICES Journal of Marine Science.

The fishing industry is an important livelihood for many people in Greenland and forms a sizable part of the country’s economy. However, offshore halibut fishing employs heavy trawling gear to catch this deep-sea fish, which can have a devastating impact on the seabed. Weighing over 10 tonnes, the gear is towed along the seafloor for several hours at a time at depths of up to 1,400 m.

Using a low-cost video sled placed on the seabed, the team were able to explore previously unseen ecosystems, and document key species of coral and sponge in the region. The intention is for their findings to inform sustainable fishery management, to ensure vulnerable species and habitats are protected from the impacts of trawling.

PhD Researcher at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology (IoZ) and lead author on the study, Stephen Long said: “Our analysis provides evidence that there is a negative relationship between trawling and the abundance of some key species, and that the composition of deep-sea marine species communities is being affected by trawling. Of particular concern are potential vulnerable marine ecosystems that may be at risk of serious or irreversible harm from trawling. It has been invaluable to work so closely with partners in Greenland to investigate these previously unexplored deep seas.

Readthe study: Long, S., Blicher, M. E., Hammeken Arboe N., Fuhrmann, M., Darling, M., Kemp, K. M., Nygaard, R., Zinglersen, K., and Yesson, C. Deep-sea benthic habitats and the impacts of trawling on them in the offshore Greenland halibut fishery, Davis Strait, west Greenland. ICES Journal of Marine Science.

Posted on: 08 September 2021

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