Ecosystem effects of bottom trawl fisheries are of major concern. Although it is prohibited to catch fish using electricity in European Union waters, a number of beam trawlers obtained a derogation and switched to pulse trawling to explore the potential to reduce impacts. Here we analyse whether using electrical rather than mechanical stimulation results in an overall reduction in physical disturbance of the seafloor in the beam-trawl fishery for sole Solea solea. We extend and apply a recently developed assessment framework to the Dutch beam-trawl fleet and show that the switch to pulse trawling substantially reduced benthic impacts when exploiting the total allowable catch of sole in the North Sea. Using Vessel Monitoring by Satellite and logbook data from 2009 to 2017, we estimate that the trawling footprint decreased by 23%, the precautionary impact indicator of the benthic community decreased by 39%, the impact on median longevity of the benthic community decreased by 20%, the impact on benthic biomass decreased by 61%, and the amount of sediment mobilised decreased by 39%. The decrease in impact is due to the replacement of tickler chains by electrode arrays, a lower towing speed and higher catch efficiency for sole. The effort and benthic physical disturbance of the beam-trawl fishery targeting plaice Pleuronectes platessa in the central North Sea increased with the recovery of the plaice stock. Our study illustrates the utility of a standardized methodological framework to assess the differences in time trends and physical disturbance between gears.
- Marine fish