"This is a major step forward. We have never seen this type of information produced on this scale before," said Adriaan Rijnsdorp, member of the ICES Advice Drafting Group and Project Coordinator for the EU BENTHIS project, which studies the impacts of fishing on benthic ecosystems, and provides the science for fishing practice impact assessments.
The OSPAR Commission requested ICES for advice on where towed seabed fishing activity is occurring and to map the intensity of that activity. The maps were produced by ICES Working Group on Spatial Fisheries Data (WGSFD) based on Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data from 10 ICES member countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, the UK, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden). They indicate the hours fished by year over the period 2009-2012 and the different gear types: beam trawls, demersal seines, dredges, and otter trawls.
"There is huge diversity in the type of fishing gear being used, so the next step is to improve the maps to include specific details of the gear type-seabed interaction and bring in information from further countries", Rijnsdorp explained.
The mapping effort feeds into OSPAR's co-ordinated approach to achieving Good Environmental Status (GES) in EU marine waters by 2020 in regards to Descriptor 6 (seafloor integrity) of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). To ensure seafloor integrity, the structure and functioning of seafloor ecosystems should not be adversely affected by human activity.
A number of caveats apply to the maps provided, which need to be taken into account while interpreting them. These are indicated in the ICES advice to OSPAR, published on the ICES website today.
Figure 220.127.116.11.6 from today's advice. Fishing intensity (subsurface) for OT, TBB, and DRB gears (see advice, Annex 18.104.22.168 for codes) combined for the years 2009–2012. The colour in each 0.05 × 0.05 degree grid cell corresponds to the swept-area ratio (average number of times fished per year). Note that the caveats outlined in the advice apply.