ROV-based monitoring of passive ecological recovery in a deep-sea no-take fishery reserve

Sci Total Environ. 2023 Apr 20:163339. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.163339. Online ahead of print.


In the context of marine conservation, trawl fishing activity is the most important ecosystem stressor in demersal Mediterranean waters. Limited management measures in bottom trawling have caused deep-sea stocks of the iconic Norway lobster Nephrops norvegicus to decrease over the last decade. This crustacean acts as an umbrella species for co-existing megafauna. Here, we used non-invasive Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) video-surveys to investigate the status of a pilot deep-sea no-take reserve implemented in the northwestern Mediterranean by quantifying demographic indicators of Norway lobsters and the co-existing benthic community, seafloor restoration, and the presence of marine litter. The results revealed that in the no-take reserve the Norway lobster stock showed higher abundance and biomass, and slightly larger body sizes than the control area without fishing prohibition. Some taxa, such as the fishes Helicolenus dactylopterus and Trigla lyra and anemones of the family Cerianthidae, had increased in abundance. We also observed that all trawling marks were smoothed and most of the seafloor was intact, clear indicators of the recovery of the muddy seafloor. The accumulation of marine debris and terrestrial vegetation was similar in the no-take reserve and the fished area. On the basis of the results of this study, we suggest that the use of no-take reserves might be an effective measure for recovering the Norway lobster stock, its co-existing megafauna community, and the surrounding demersal habitat. We also suggest that ROV video-survey might be a useful, and non-invasive method to monitor megafauna and seafloor status in protected deep-sea environments.

PMID:37087018 | DOI:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.163339


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