University Of Tasmania

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Evaluating impacts of fishing on benthic habitats: A risk assessment framework applied to Australian fisheries

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 09:05 authored by Williams, A, Dowdney, J, Smith, Anthony, Hobday, A, Fuller, M
Ecosystem-based management (EBM), in the context of fishing, considers impacts on all parts of an exploited marine ecosystem. Understanding the impacts of fishing on habitats is a necessary part of adopting EBM, but multi-scale data that describe the types and distributions of habitats, and the interactions of fishing with them, are typically limited or entirely lacking. An approach developed to address habitat impacts, and applied to all offshore bottom contact fisheries in Australian waters, forms part of a hierarchical risk assessment framework - the Ecological Risk Assessment for the Effects of Fishing (ERAEF). Its progressively quantitative hierarchical approach enables higher-risk interactions to be identified and prioritised in the early and intermediate assessment stages by screening out lower-risk interactions. The approach makes the best use of all available data, but it can also be inferential where data are lacking. At the intermediate level of the ERAEF, a semi-quantitative approach uses a general conceptual model of how fishing impacts on ecological systems, with a focus at the level of regional sub-fisheries defined by fishing method (gear type). A set of quantifiable attributes for habitats are used to describe the 'susceptibility' of each habitat to damage that may be caused by specific fishing gears; resilience is generalised as a habitat's inherent 'productivity' (ability to recover from damage). In the ERAEF, photographic imagery was used effectively to provide a standardised method to classify habitats, to visualise the attributes assessed, and to communicate with stakeholders. The application of the ERAEF to habitats is illustrated using results from a multi-sector fishery off southern Australia that has five primary sub-fisheries: two bottom trawl ('otter trawler' or 'dragger'), bottom set auto-longline, bottom set gill net, and Danish seine. In the case of the otter trawl sub-fishery, a set of 158 habitat types was considered, of which 46, mostly on the outer continental shelf and slope, were identified as potentially higher risk and deserving management attention. Strengths of the ERAEF approach for benthic habitats include methodological flexibility and wide applicability, and in being interactive and inclusive - bringing stakeholders, scientists and managers together to 'put habitat on the radar' and to develop management solutions. Limitations include difficulties in construction and validation of scored attributes and scale dependence. In the context of ecological risk management, this method offers a way to assess risks to marine habitats in a rigorous, transparent, and repeatable manner.



Publication title

Fisheries Research: An International Journal on Fishing Technology, Fisheries Science and Fisheries Management








Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Elsevier Science Bv

Place of publication

Po Box 211, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1000 Ae

Rights statement

Copyright 2011 Elsevier B.V.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences