Introduction The future protection of marine biodiversity through good conservation planning requires both the identification of key habitats with unique ecological characteristics and detailed knowledge of their human utilization through fisheries. Demersal fisheries are important disturbers of benthic habitats. They often have a heterogeneous spatial distribution, pressurizing particular habitats with high abundances of target species. For the North Sea, we quantified the commonness/rarity of habitats in relation to the environmental determinants of so-called fishing hotspots, to support better-informed conservation planning of benthic habitats in this intensively used continental shelf. Methods We first distinguished 9 main seascapes in the study area based on seabed morphology. Secondly, we determined average fishing intensity and fishing hotspots using VMS-data for the three dominant Dutch fisheries from 2008 to 2015: beam-trawlers targeting sole Solea solea (Beam-Sole), beam-trawlers targeting plaice Pleuronectes platessa (Beam-Plaice), and otter-trawlers targeting Norway lobster Nephrops norvegicus and demersal fish (Otter-Mix). Within the seascapes subjected to >80% of the fishing activity, nineteen environmental factors (summarized by PCA) were used to ecologically characterize fishing hotspot locations using MaxEnt response modelling. Results We found that all three fisheries target highly specific, uncommon habitats. Beam-Sole fishers targeted warmer, shallow, dynamic, nearshore habitats, and within these specifically the depressions between sand ridges. Beam-Plaice fishers mainly targeted the exposed, non-muddy flanks of the Dogger Bank and similar large-scale elevations (50–75 km) where especially the ridges of smaller sand banks are used. Otter-Mix fisheries concentrated in areas with low bed shear stress, located in muddy, relatively deeper areas. Implications This study is the first to provide insight in benthic habitat types that are frequently targeted by fishers in the North Sea. We demonstrated unequal exploitation pressure between seabed habitats, with the majority of hotspots in the less common habitats. Our results hence contribute to a more effective, ecologically informed planning for the protection and monitoring of all seabed habitats and biodiversity of the North Sea.