Effects of trawling impacts on mega-epibenthic communities from heavy exploited to undisturbed areas in a Mediterranean fishing ground (Central Mediterranean Sea)



Detailed studies of the responses of communities' components to fishing activities are necessary to suggest effective measures of management in a context of Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management. Multiple case-studies from a wider range of habitats are needed to refine model predictions of the consequences of bottom fishing disturbance. In this context, the study aims to highlight the impact of otter trawl fisheries on epifaunal assemblages to a fishing ground scale in the Southern Tyrrhenian Sea. The study takes advantage of the presence of two Fishery Exclusion Zones. A high-resolution spatial distribution of fishing effort was obtained through Vessel Monitoring System data analysis. Mega-epibenthic organisms were collected in the framework of the MEDITS Project. Fishing intensity effects were tested on each surveyed epibenthic communities across the continental shelf and down to the meso-bathyal plain. Density and biomass indices reached the highest values inside the EFZs. Not-trawled areas had a significantly high abundance of fragile and emerging species. Contrarily the mostly exploited areas had a greater number of scavengers.