Acute impacts of bottom trawl gears on benthic metabolism and nutrient cycling
Research on the environmental impacts of bottom fishing gears has focused mainly on structural characteristics of benthic habitats such as faunal composition and the physical features of the seafloor. This study focuses more on functional characteristics by addressing the biogeochemical consequences associated with tickler chain beam trawl and electric PulseWing trawl gears. In June 2017, professional fishermen trawled experimental transects with both types of gears in the Frisian Front area of the North Sea. Box core sediment samples and in situ landers were used to evaluate biogeochemical fluxes and sediment characteristics in untrawled and trawled areas (samples taken 3.5–70 h after fishing). A reduction of sedimentary chlorophyll a was observed, which was larger following tickler chain (83%) compared to PulseWing trawling (43%). This displacement of surface material caused significant decreases in the sediment oxygen consumption in tickler chain (41%) and PulseWing trawled samples (33%) along with a deeper penetration of oxygen in the sediment (tickler chain: 3.78 mm, PulseWing: 3.17 mm) compared to untrawled areas (2.27 mm). Our research implies that bottom trawl disturbance can lead to immediate declines in benthic community metabolism, with tickler chain trawling exhibiting more prominent alterations than PulseWing trawling on benthic biogeochemical processes.