An evaluation of benthic community structure in and around the Sackville Spur closed area (Northwest Atlantic) in relation to the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems

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The benthic macrofaunal community structure is investigated within and around a closed area at Sackville Spur in the Northwest Atlantic to ascertain whether continued exclusion of bottom fishing can be justified. This and other similar closed areas have been introduced by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) to protect areas of likely occurrence of taxa that are indicative of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) from the damaging effects of bottom-contact fishing gear. Results reveal subtle yet significant differences in macrofaunal assemblage composition and community structure between inside and outside the closed area, between above and below the 1200-m depth contour (i.e. the historical depth limit of fishing), and between areas where dense sponge spicule mats are either present or absent. Differences were observed in many assemblage metrics; however, the most revealing was the greater abundance, biomass, diversity, and number of VME indicative taxa inside the closed area than outside. Overall community composition is also significantly different between treatments. Depth, sediment temperature, and the proportion of clay within sediments are important in shaping the faunal assemblage. The importance of the effects of fishing is discussed, although it is not possible to ascertain if fishing is the direct cause behind observed differences in the macrofaunal assemblage. A continued closure of the area is recommended, as well as options for streamlining the evaluation process of other closed areas.

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