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Assessing the sensitivity of habitats to fishing: from seabed maps to sensitivity mapsa


  • Natural Resources Wales: previously the Countryside Council for Wales.
  • aThis paper was presented at the 6th World Fisheries Congress, Edinburgh, in 2012 (sponsored by the FSBI). As a result, its content may not fall within the normal scope of the Journal of Fish Biology.

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In the Welsh part of the Irish Sea, a method was developed for assessing the sensitivity of different seabed habitats to existing fishing activities, across a range of potential fishing intensities. The resistance of 31 habitats and their associated biological assemblage to damage by 14 categories of fishing activity were assessed along with the rate at which each habitat would recover following impact (resilience). Sensitivity was scored based on a combination of the resistance of a habitat to damage and its subsequent rate of recovery. The assessments were based, wherever possible, on scientific literature, with expert judgement used to extrapolate results to habitat and gear combinations not directly examined in the published literature. The resulting sensitivity matrices were then subject to further peer review at a series of workshops. Following consensus on the habitat sensitivity, these data were combined with the most resolved sea-floor habitat maps. These habitat sensitivity maps can help inform the development of site-specific management plans, as well as having a place in spatial planning and aiding managers in developing dialogue with other stakeholders. A case study of their application is provided.