EUROFLEETS2 Funded Project “BenthHabIceland” Results

Benthic habitats in Iceland’s shrimp trawl grounds

Project Acronym &Title: BenthHabIceland – Benthic habitats in Iceland’s shrimp trawl grounds

Area: Northern Iceland

Research Vessel: RV Magnus Heinason, Faroe Marine Research Institute, Faroe

Chief scientist: Dr Kirsty Kemp, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London

Co-Chief scientist: Dr Chris Yesson

Other project partners: Steinunn H. Olafsdottir, Ingibjorg G. Jonsdottir, Marine Research Insitute, Reykjavik (Iceland)

Date: July 1 – 7, 2015
R:V Magnus Heinason © Institute of Zoology
Project Team © Institute of Zoology
Stations cruise BenthHabIceland © Institute of Zoology
Dr Kirsty Kemp, Zoological Society of London, UK

“Eurofleets2 provided us with a valuable opportunity to access and survey the shrimp fishing region of north Iceland and to establish baseline data of the benthic faunal communities that exist in regions subject to varying levels of fishing pressure. Data of this type are vital to enable effective management and conservation of ecological systems under exploitation. This was a highly successful expedition and the beginning of what we hope will be many more collaborations between IoZ London and MRI Reykjavik. Huge thanks are due to the officers and crew of R/V Magnus Heinason, and to the Faroe Marine Research Institute, for making us all so welcome and so ably facilitating our work. Thank you!”
Dr Kirsty Kemp

Main Objectives

Shrimp are both an important economic resource for many northern nations (Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Canada) and an important component of marine ecosystems in these regions. The offshore shrimp trawl fishery in Icelandic waters has been in operation since the 1970s, peaking in the 90s. But trawl gear can have a negative impact on benthic habitats, removing or damaging vulnerable species, and affecting the sustainability of the harvest. However, the impact of trawling varies according to seabed substrate, and soft sediment habitats (such as those preferred by shrimp) show some indication of being more resilient to disturbance.
In order to understand the impact of trawling on the seafloor we must first know what is there, and existing knowledge of the communities of the Arctic seafloor – their distribution, abundance and diversity- is very fragmented.

No pre-fishing baselines of community composition and benthic habitat structure exist for northern shrimp trawl fishing regions and little direct observational work has been carried out.

This work in North Iceland is part of a research program dedicated to surveying the current state of benthic ecosystems in the Arctic, and to establishing baselines – albeit of already impacted systems – from which to measure change in future years.

Work progress and main achievements

This project aimed primarily to obtain baseline data of the benthic fauna of north Iceland’s shrimp fishing region. In this we were highly successful. We used a benthic drop camera, supplemented with a GoPro video camera, to survey regions of the seabed north of Iceland, that have been or continue to be areas subject to active shrimp trawling. 276 images and 25 videos were collected from 25 stations in 4 days (more than anticipated and planned for). Stations were selected to represent a variety of depths, covering locations with moderate to heavy trawling intensity based on effort reported by Sigurðsson and Magnússon (2013). These images are now being analysed to document the substrate, fauna and community composition of the region. Grab samples and mud samples were collected from 9 and 10 stations respectively. These are being used for analysis of benthic infauna and grain size and to better understand the variation in habitat and substrate.

Secondary aims of the project are to evaluation fishing impact and regional differences in benthic community composition. Fishing effort data is being used together with the images of the seafloor to evaluate the impact of fishing on community structure. Image data will later be compared with similar work being led by IoZ in the shrimp trawl grounds of west Greenland, and with other similar surveys being undertaken, or planned for, in other Arctic regions.

Benthic camera deployment © Institute of Zoology
Mud sampling of shrimp grounds © Institute of Zoology
Seapen field, North Iceland (still image taken from video footage) © Institute of Zoology

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