The recovery of benthic communities inside the western Gulf of Maine fishing closure area was evaluated by comparing invertebrate assemblages at sites inside and outside of the closure four to six years after the closure was established. The major restriction imposed by the closure was a year-round prohibition of bottom gillnets and otter trawls. A total of 163 seafloor sites (similar to half inside and half outside the closure) within a 515-km(2) study area were sampled with some combination of Shipek grab, Wildco box corer, or underwater video. Bottom types ranged from mud (silt and clay) to boulders, and the effects of the closure on univariate measures (total density, biomass, taxonomic richness) of benthos varied widely among sediment types. For sites with predominantly mud sediments, there were mixed effects on inside and outside infauna and no effect on epifauna. For sites with mainly sand sediments, there were higher density, biomass, and taxonomic richness for infauna inside the closure, but no significant effects on epifauna. For sites dominated by gravel (which included boulders in some areas), there were no effects on infauna but strong effects on epifaunal density and taxonomic richness. For fishing gear, the data indicated that infauna recovered in sand from the impacts of otter trawls operated inside the closure but that they did not recover in mud, and that epifauna recovered on gravel bottoms from the impact of gillnets used inside the closure. The magnitudes of impact and recovery, however, cannot be inferred directly from our data because of a confounding factor of different fishing intensities outside the closure for a direct comparison of preclosure and postclosure data. The overall negative impact of trawls is likely underestimated by our data, whereas the negative impact of gillnets is likely overestimated.


Biological Sciences, Jackson Estuarine Laboratory

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Fishery Bulletin


National Marine Fisheries Service Scientific Publication Office

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