With the global demand for food on the rise, research highlighting sustainable methods of harvesting food is becoming increasingly important. Recognizing the ocean as one of our most important food sources, MSC faculty member Jon Grabowski recently published a paper in Reviews in Fisheries Science and Aquaculture, assessing the impact of bottom-tending fishing gear on various fish habitat types.

In the paper, Grabowski and colleagues develop a rigorous framework for assessing the impact of the most commonly used fishing gear on fish habitats in New England. The authors use parameters such as susceptibility to damage, and time required for recovery from damage, of both the geological and biological features of each habitat.

Results indicate that impacts vary based on gear type as well as habitat. Mobile gear such as dredges caused the most damage, while fixed gear such as traps proved less harmful for essential fish habitats. Hard substrates such as boulder and cobble were more susceptible to damage and had longer recovery times from damage when compared with softer substrates such as mud and sand.

This research highlights the need to consider specific habitat characteristics in order to implement useful management strategies. The framework developed provides fisheries managers with a tool to assess habitat vulnerability, aiding in efforts to preserve essential fish habitats and improve the sustainability of fish harvesting in New England. The framework is being used by the New England Fishery Management Council as part of the Omnibus Essential Fish Habitat Amendment 2 to assess habitat impacts and redesign the closed areas in the Northwest Atlantic to maximize protection of essential fish habitat in this region to the extent practicable.