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Publication . Article . 2018

Bottom trawl fishing footprints on the world’s continental shelves

Ricardo O. Amoroso; C. Roland Pitcher; Adriaan D. Rijnsdorp; Robert A. McConnaughey; Ana M. Parma; Petri Suuronen; Ole Ritzau Eigaard; +50 Authors
Open Access

Bottom trawlers land around 19 million tons of fish and invertebrates annually, almost one-quarter of wild marine landings. The extent of bottom trawling footprint (seabed area trawled at least once in a specified region and time period) is often contested but poorly described. We quantify footprints using high-resolution satellite vessel monitoring system (VMS) and logbook data on 24 continental shelves and slopes to 1,000-m depth over at least 2 years. Trawling footprint varied markedly among regions: from 50% in some European seas. Overall, 14% of the 7.8 million-km2 study area was trawled, and 86% was not trawled. Trawling activity was aggregated; the most intensively trawled areas accounting for 90% of activity comprised 77% of footprint on average. Regional swept area ratio (SAR; ratio of total swept area trawled annually to total area of region, a metric of trawling intensity) and footprint area were related, providing an approach to estimate regional trawling footprints when high-resolution spatial data are unavailable. If SAR was ≤0.1, as in 8 of 24 regions, there was >95% probability that >90% of seabed was not trawled. If SAR was 7.9, equal to the highest SAR recorded, there was >95% probability that >70% of seabed was trawled. Footprints were smaller and SAR was ≤0.25 in regions where fishing rates consistently met international sustainability benchmarks for fish stocks, implying collateral environmental benefits from sustainable fishing.

Significance We conducted a systematic, high-resolution analysis of bottom trawl fishing footprints for 24 regions on continental shelves and slopes of five continents and New Zealand. The proportion of seabed trawled varied >200-fold among regions (from 0.4 to 80.7% of area to a depth of 1,000 m). Within 18 regions, more than two-thirds of seabed area remained untrawled during study periods of 2–6 years. Relationships between metrics of total trawling activity and footprint were strong and positive, providing a method to estimate trawling footprints for regions where high-resolution data are not available. Trawling footprints were generally smaller in regions where fisheries met targets for exploitation rates, implying collateral environmental benefits of effective fisheries management.

Subjects by Vocabulary

Microsoft Academic Graph classification: Seabed Bottom trawling Trawling Continental shelf geography.geographical_feature_category geography Fishery Fish stock Fishing Vessel monitoring system Environmental science Footprint


WIAS, Onderzoeksformatie, Effort, Fisheries, Footprint, Habitat, Seabed, effort, fisheries, footprint, habitat, seabed, /dk/atira/pure/sustainabledevelopmentgoals/life_below_water, SDG 14 - Life Below Water, Multidisciplinary, fisheries; effort; footprint; habitat; seabed, 9, PNAS Plus, Biological Sciences, Sustainability Science

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Funded by
Benthic ecosystem fisheries Impact Study
  • Funder: European Commission (EC)
  • Project Code: 312088
  • Funding stream: FP7 | SP1 | KBBE
Related to Research communities
European Marine Science Marine Environmental Science : Benthic ecosystem fisheries Impact Study