Rapid Changes on Sediment Accumulation Rates within Submarine Canyons Caused By Bottom Trawling Activities

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Pere Puig1, Pere Masque2, Jacobo Martin1,3, Sarah Paradis2, Xènia Juan2, Miguel Toro2 and Albert Palanques1, (1)ICM-CSIC, Barcelona, Spain, (2)Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), Barcelona, Spain, (3)Centro Austral de Investigaciones Científicas (CADIC-CONICET), Ushuaia, Argentina
The physical disturbance of the marine sedimentary environments by commercial bottom trawling is a matter of concern. The direct physical effects of this fishing technique include scraping and ploughing of the seabed and increases of the near-bottom water turbidity by sediment resuspension. However, the quantification of the sediment that has been resuspended by this anthropogenic activity over years and has been ultimately exported across the margin remains largely unaddressed. The analysis of sediment accumulation rates from sediment cores collected along the axes of several submarine canyons in the Catalan margin (northwestern Mediterranean) has allowed to estimate the contribution of this anthropogenic activity to the present-day sediment dynamics. 210Pb chronologies, occasionally supported by 137Cs dating, indicate a rapid increase of sediment accumulation rates since the 1970s, in coincidence with a strong impulse in the industrialization of the trawling fleets of this region. Such increase has been associated to the enhanced delivery of sediment resuspended by trawlers from the shelves and upper slope regions towards the canyon’s interior, and to the rapid technical development at that time, in terms of engine power and gear size. This change has been observed in La Fonera (or Palamós) Canyon at depths greater than 1700 m, while in other canyons it is restricted to shallower regions (~1000 m in depth) closer to fishing grounds. Two sampling sites from La Fonera and Foix submarine canyons that exhibited high sediment accumulation rates (0.6-0.7 cm/y) were reoccupied several years after the first chronological analyses. These two new cores reveal a second and more rapid increase of sediment accumulation rates in both canyons occurring circa 2002 and accounting for about 2 cm/y. This second change at the beginning of the XXI century has been attributed to a preferential displacement of the trawling fleet towards slope fishing grounds surrounding submarine canyons, and also to technical improvements in trawling vessels, presumably related to subsidies and aids provided by the European Commission to the fishing industry.