<em>Abstract</em> — The increasing concern about impacts of bottom trawling, scallop dredging, and other mobile fishing methods has focused primarily on effects on commercial fisheries, but these fishing activities also act more broadly on benthic biological diversity. Because the seabed is erroneously envisioned as a featureless, nearly lifeless plain, impacts of commercial fishing gear have long been underestimated. Structures on and in the seabed, including biogenic structures (reef corals, kelp holdfasts, shells, tubes, and tunnels), create a diversity of habitat patches. They provide refuges from predation and feeding places for demersal fishes and other species. Benthic structural complexity is positively correlated with species diversity and postsettlement survivorship of some commercial fishes. Mobile fishing gear disturbs the seabed, damaging benthic structures and harming structure-associated species, including commercially important fishes, although some other commercial fish species can persist where seabed structures have been removed. Bottom trawling is therefore similar to forest clear-cutting, but it is far more extensive and is converting very large areas of formerly structurally complex, biologically diverse seabed into the marine equivalent of low-diversity cattle pasture. In contrast with the U.S. National Forest Management Act, which governs use of living resources in federally owned forestlands, the 1996 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act does not prevent ecosystem “type conversion” and ignores the need to maintain biological diversity. Preventing further loss of marine biodiversity and key fisheries will depend on our willingness to protect marine areas from effects of mobile fishing methods.

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