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Sediment suspended by bottom trawling can reduce reproductive success in a broadcast spawning fish

Corell, Hanna; Bradshaw, Clare; Skold, Mattias


Suspended sediment adheres to pelagic fish eggs, affecting their buoyancy. In the stratified southern Baltic Sea, eggs of the Eastern cod depend on neutral buoyancy in the "reproductive volume" (RV) (approx. >11 salinity and >2 ml O2/L) for successful hatching. With increased suspended sediment concentrations (SSC), eggs risk sinking out of the RV into deeper, unfavourable conditions. Bottom trawling, which increases SSC, has been intense around the Eastern cod spawning ground. We modelled the transport of sediment suspended from trawling at this spawning ground to estimate the degree to which eggs could be affected by increased SSC. SSC >1 mg/L above background levels was found 3 km away, one trawl track subjecting a water volume equivalent to 0.01% of the RV to this excess SSC for >12 h. At this excess SSC, it would take c. 6 d for an egg to sink out into unfavourable conditions; insufficient time for it to become a larva. Extrapolating to real bottom trawling intensities in the area of the RV where suspension is highest showed that a water volume equivalent to half the RV experiences excess turbidity of >1 mg/L for c. 24 h during a year. However, fishing effort is heterogeneous; spatio-temporal overlap between trawling and the RV will enhance the duration and/or frequency of turbidity in the spawning area, affecting a higher fraction of the eggs than the model predicts. We conclude that bottom trawling at this spawning ground could decrease cod's reproductive success through increased SSC. Such effects are likely in populations of other fish with pelagic eggs that spawn at trawling grounds.

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Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
2023, Volym: 282, artikelnummer: 108232

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