• bottom fish assemblages;
  • hydrographical features;
  • Mantel test;
  • non-parametric MANOVA;
  • North Sea;
  • spatial community patterns;
  • water masses


Understanding the links between large scale spatial structuring of fish assemblages and shaping factors is essential to develop comprehensive ecosystem-based fisheries management. In this study, we investigated spatial patterns of bottom fish assemblages in the North Sea in relation to prevailing water masses in the region. We based our analysis on catch data from the German Small-Scale Bottom Trawl Survey conducted between 1987 and 2005 and used both ordination techniques and Mantel tests. Spatial variability of bottom fish assemblages was larger than inter-annual variability. Five significantly different bottom fish assemblages were associated with the following prevailing hydrographical regimes: i) the English Channel, ii) Continental Coastal, iii) central North Sea, iv) northern North Sea, and v) northern Atlantic water masses. Associations were generated by gradients in relative proportions of abundant species such as grey gurnard (Eutrigla gurnardus), dab (Limanda limanda), whiting (Merlangius merlangus), haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) and Norway pout (Trisopterus esmarki). Taking into account large scale spatial structuring of catch data Mantel tests confirmed significant correlation between the fish assemblages and hydrographical variables. In summary, our results strongly support the hypotheses that hydrographical features such as water masses, fronts, and residual currents could shape bottom fish associations in the North Sea. Spatial demarcations of bottom fish assemblages indicated by this study can be used to support ecosystem-based fisheries management strategies.