When does fishing lead to more fish? Community consequences of bottom trawl fisheries in demersal food webs

P.D. van Denderen, T. van Kooten, A.D. Rijnsdorp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Bottom trawls are a globally used fishing gear that physically disturb the seabed and kill non-target organisms, including those that are food for the targeted fish species. There are indications that ensuing changes to the benthic invertebrate community may increase the availability of food and promote growth and even fisheries yield of target fish species. If and how this occurs is the subject of ongoing debate, with evidence both in favour and against. We model the effects of trawling on a simple ecosystem of benthivorous fish and two food populations (benthos), susceptible and resistant to trawling. We show that the ecosystem response to trawling depends on whether the abundance of benthos is top-down or bottom-up controlled. Fishing may result in higher fish abundance, higher (maximum sustainable) yield and increased persistence of fish when the benthos which is the best-quality fish food is also more resistant to trawling. These positive effects occur in bottom-up controlled systems and systems with limited impact of fish feeding on benthos, resembling bottom-up control. Fishing leads to lower yields and fish persistence in all configurations where susceptible benthos are more profitable prey. Our results highlight the importance of mechanistic ecosystem knowledge as a requirement for successful management.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20131883
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society. B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1769
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • southern north-sea
  • benthic community
  • interspecific competition
  • marine systems
  • disturbance
  • sediment
  • model
  • management
  • predation
  • impacts


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