Responses of benthic scavengers to fishing disturbance by towed gears in different habitats

Kirsten Ramsay*, Michel J. Kaiser, Roger N. Hughes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

128 Citations (Scopus)


The aggregation and feeding behaviour of invertebrate scavengers in areas disturbed by trawling was investigated at three different localities. At each site a fishing disturbance was created using a commercial 4 m beam trawl and scavenger density was quantified using a light beam trawl. At one site two diver surveys were also carried out; along a line fished with a scallop dredge or a beam trawl on two separate occasions. For all experiments the fished and adjacent unfished control areas were sampled before, and at intervals after, the initial fishing disturbance. Sampling with the light beam trawl revealed that hermit crabs Pagurus bernhardus moved into areas which had been fished with a 4 m beam trawl at an experimental site near Anglesey. The density of these hermit crabs increased significantly in the fished area after fishing had taken place, but no change in density occurred in the adjacent control (unfished) area. At two other sites (Red Wharf Bay, Anglesey and a site offshore from Walney Island) there were no detectable increases in scavenger numbers in the fished areas. Furthermore, at the site near Walney Island, numbers of hermit crabs P. bernhardus, swimming crabs Liocarcinus depurator and starfish Asterias rubens actually decreased after fishing. Thus the responses of scavengers to towed fishing gears varied considerably between different communities. At Red Wharf Bay, divers observed similar responses of scavengers to both beam trawl and scallop dredge disturbance. Four predatory species were observed feeding in the fished area; starfish A. rubens, hermit crabs P. bernhardus, brittlestars Ophiura ophiura and whelks Buccinum undatum. These predators fed on damaged bivalves, echinoderms, crustaceans, whelks and polychaetes. The proportion of starfish feeding in the fished area was significantly higher after fishing had taken place. Demersal fishing activities provide food for scavengers in the form of damaged animals which are left in the tracks of the trawl or dredge. The responses of scavengers to fishing disturbance are not always manifested as a large increase in their abundance. It is clear that the magnitude of response varies between species and between habitat types.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-89
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 1998


  • Feeding behaviour
  • Fishing disturbance
  • Habitat differences
  • Scavengers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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