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A novel technological and collaborative approach to mapping deep-sea benthic habitats and assessing risks from bottom contact fishing

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Bottom longline fishing gear can damage sensitive benthic areas (SBAs) in the ocean; however, the risks to these habitats are poorly understood. In this study we describe a collaborative academic-industry-government approach to mapping SBAs and measuring gear interactions with seafloor habitats via novel deepwater trap camera and motion-sensing systems on commercial longline traps for Sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) within the SGaan Kinghlas - Bowie Seamount Marine Protected Area. We obtained direct presence-absence observations of cold-water corals and sponges that were used to develop species distribution models of gorgonian corals (Alcyonacea) in fished areas. Video, accelerometer and depth sensor data were used to classify gear movement, estimating a mean bottom footprint of 3 200 m2 (95% CI = 2 400 - 3 900 m2) for a 60-trap Sablefish longline set approximately 3 km in length. Our successful collaboration demonstrates how research partnerships with the fishing industry offer new opportunities for conducting SBA risk assessments over large spatial and temporal scales.
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