Scallop dredging has profound, long-term impacts on maerl habitats
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Maerl beds are mixed sediments built by a surface layer of slow-growing, unattached coralline algae that are of international conservation significance because they create areas of high biodiversity. They are patchily distributed throughout Europe (to ∼ 30 m depth around the British Isles and to ∼ 120 m depth in the Mediterranean) and many are affected by towed demersal fishing. We report the effects of Newhaven scallop dredges on a previously unfished maerl bed compared with the effects on similar grounds that have been fished commercially in the Clyde Sea area, Scotland. Sediment cores were taken to assess the population density of live maerl thalli prior to scallop dredging on marked test and control plots. These plots were then monitored biannually over a four-year period. Live maerl thalli were sparsely distributed at the impacted site, and experimental dredging had no discernible effect on their numbers. The previously unfished ground had dense populations of live maerl and scallops (both Aequipecten opercularis and Pecten maximus). While counts of live maerl remained high on the control plot, scallop dredging led to a >70% reduction with no sign of recovery over the subsequent four years. The vulnerability of maerl and associated benthos (e.g., the delicate bivalve, Limaria hians) is discussed in relation to towed demersal fishing practices. © 2000 International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.
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