Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

A knowledge platform to assess the effects of trawling on benthic communities

Fisheries management is moving towards and Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF) which takes into account fishing impacts on ecosystem and habitats as well as on target species1. In this context, we provide a tool (a knowledge platform) for all stakeholders involved in fisheries to inform of the effects that trawling have on benthic communities in order to rise public awareness on the need of maintaining healthy habitats to sustain fisheries. We consider society as a driver which influences management decisions that will regulate trawling fisheries. Therefore the platform informs in an understandable way of the impacts of this pressure on the seabed. This platform also enables the user to simulate a fishing effort change in a given site which provides an output on how the benthic community traits’ composition might vary due to the effort change. Hence, it might be used as a management supporting tool.


The platform represent the trawling impacts on benthic community in a visual, understandable way, all wrapped in a user-friendly software. It also presents a simulation tool to visualise the effects of a fishing effort change on benthic community structure.

The platform presents four blocks which compile the information of trawling impacts on benthic communities from 18 Mediterranean sites234. In the first platform block, the platform is presented and the benthic communities need to be taken into account when managing fisheries. The second block is dedicated to the simulation methodology, where the representation of the community through the relative abundance of traits which are known to be vulnerable/resistent to trawling (substrate position, size, feeding mehod, motilty and other attributes) is explained2. A third block shows the epifaunal samples from 18 sites in the Mediterranean which are being used to build the model. These sites are subjected to different levels of fishing effort and comprise several habitats types (from bare mud to muddy-maërl sediments). On this block the user will find all the information available for the benthic community displayed in different graphical representations and get an idea of how trawling affects each habitat. Finally, in the fourth block, the user will find a simulation tool where the fishing effort a given site is subjected to can be changed in order to test how this change affects benthic ecosystem.


The simulation tool enables the user to simulate an effort change in a given site or in his own site of interest in order to observe the estimated benthic structure variation. Therefore, it might be used to decide the effort limit in a management context.

In the simulation block the user can choose one of the 18 Mediterranean study sites and change its present effort. The simulation will produce a graphical representation of the community trait’s structure variation due to the effort change. If the user knows the fishing effort on his area of interest and has information on epifaunal abundance, he can transform it to a trait abundance database (as explained in the methodology block) and add his site on the simulation. Then, he will be able to simulate an effort change in his own newly added site. Moreover, in a future development, a coupling between the platform software and the statistical software R will be set up so as the simulation regression laws could be recalculated using the added site in order to make the simulation more robust. As a future challenge, commercial resource status will be link to the benthic community so as to the platform could be used as a management tool for trawling fisheries in an ecosystem approach framework5.

Trait approach has proved to be a better approach to highlight trawling impacts on benthos than species approach.

To address the benthic community representation issue we chose a biological trait approach instead of a species approach; that is, species’ morphological, behaviour and feeding patterns characteristics where used instead of species themselves. Species composition is highly influenced by local environmental conditions which can mask fishing impact consequences. Therefore, as different species may share the same traits, the trait approach allows overcoming regional differences while, at the same time, highlights fishing effects on benthic communities46. Moreover, this approach reduces the number of variables simplifying the analysis.

Relevance for Policy:
  • Common Fisheries Policy
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Management (forthcoming)
  • EU Biodiversity Strategy
  • Habitats and Birds Directive
  • ICZM Protocol to the Barcelona Convention
  • Integrated European Maritime Policy (IMP)
  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive


Lead Author:

Montserrat Demestre & Alba Muntadas
( and
Agrocampus Ouest (AGRO)
Date of research: January 2015

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Using GPS tracking to map fishing activities

Aquaculture and invasive species in Venice Lagoon 

Changes in herring larvae and environment 1957-2010

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.