Consensus Report

Effects of Trawling and Dredging on Seafloor Habitat (2002)


Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Concerns over the potential ecological effects of fishing have increased with the expansion of fisheries throughout the marine waters of the United States. Many experimental studies have indicated that low mobility, long-lived species are more vulnerable to towed fishing gear than short-lived species in areas where the seabed is often disturbed by natural phenomena. Trawling and dredging may also change the composition and productivity of fish communities dependent on seafloor habitats for food and refuge, but the scale of these impacts depends on the level of fishing effort. This report describes how assessment of fishing impacts depends on gear type, number and location of bottom tows, and the physical and biological characteristics of seafloor habitats.

Key Messages

  • Existing data are not sufficient to optimize the spatial and temporal distribution of trawling and dredging to protect habitat and sustain fishery yields.
  • Integration of available data on the effects of trawling and dredging, fishing effort, and the distribution of seafloor habitats can provide a starting point for practical initial evaluations that will inform management decisions.
  • Resolution of the different, and at times conflicting, ecological and socioeconomic goals will require not only a better understanding of the relevant ecosystems and fisheries, but also more effective interaction among stakeholders.