Acoustic backscatter analysis of ground-fishing activity in the German North Sea sector


The physical impact of demersal fishing was studied in three different areas of the German North Sea sector by use of a multibeam echosounder. The areas represent typical shallow seas siliciclastic habitats in variable distance to the coastline. Their seabed substrate is dominated by coarse silt close to the shore and by fine sand in the most distal area on the Dogger Bank. The study documents the utility of the multibeam as a suitable tool to map large seafloor areas, as well as to quantify and qualify the footprints of the fishing groundgear. Besides the depth and amplitude information, the multibeam data allows the analysis of the incidence angle-dependent variation of the backscatter signal that provides additional information on the seabed impedance, roughness, volume scatter and substrate type. Two main types of destructive seafloor pattern were observed in the three areas. The dominant type are pairs of parallel furrows exhibiting widths of 6–9 m and depths of 2–6 cm and is related to beam trawling. Separation distance of the pair furrows is 16–23 m. The second type are pairs of narrow furrows (3–4 m) with much larger separation distance of 110–120 m. They are attributed to otter board trawling. A comparison of their mechanical ramification shows that the fishing gear incises the seafloor and modifies seafloor structures and properties. Our investigation documents that beam trawling has the greatest physical impact and exhibits the highest furrow density in the three study areas. The created furrows can persist for at least 4 months in a substrate of very fine sand. Depending on the hydrodynamic regime, the furrows can be later refilled by finer sediments, or levelled out by storm wave-induced turbulence reaching the seafloor. The hydrofoils used in otter trawl to spread the net likewise incise the seafloor, but the furrows are much narrower. However, the ground rope of the net towed between the boards scratches the seafloor and levels the microscale topography along track widths of ca. 100 m.
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