The influence of depth and a subsea pipeline on fish assemblages and commercially fished species

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Abstract

Knowledge of marine ecosystems that grow and reside on and around subsea oil and gas infrastructure is required to understand impacts of this offshore industry on the marine environment and inform decommissioning decisions. This study used baited remote underwater stereo-video systems (stereo-BRUVs) to compare species richness, fish abundance and size along 42.3 km of subsea pipeline and in adjacent areas of varying habitats. The pipeline is laid in an onshore-offshore direction enabling surveys to encompass a range of depths from 9 m nearshore out to 140 m depth offshore. Surveys off the pipeline were performed across this depth range and in an array of natural habitats (sand, macroalgae, coral reef) between 1 km and 40 km distance from the pipeline. A total of 14,953 fish were observed comprising 240 species (131 on the pipeline and 225 off-pipeline) and 59 families (39 on the pipeline and 56 off-pipeline) and the length of 8,610 fish were measured. The fish assemblage on and off the pipeline was similar in depths of <80 m. In depths beyond 80 m, the predominant habitat off-pipeline was sand and differences between fish assemblages on and off-pipeline were more pronounced. The pipeline was characterised by higher biomass and abundances of larger-bodied, commercially important species such as: Pristipomoides multidens (goldband snapper), Lutjanus malabaricus (saddletail snapper) and Lutjanus russellii (Moses' snapper) among others, and possessed a catch value 2-3 times higher per stereo-BRUV deployment than that of fish observed off-pipeline. Adjacent natural seabed habitats possessed higher abundances of Atule mate (yellowtail scad), Nemipterus spp. (threadfin bream) and Terapon jarbua (crescent grunter), species of no or low commercial value. This is the first published study to use stereo-BRUVs to report on the importance of subsea infrastructure to commercially important fishes over a depth gradient and increases our knowledge of the fish assemblage associated with subsea infrastructure off north-west Australia. These results provide a greater understanding of ecological and fisheries implications of decommissioning subsea infrastructure on the north-west shelf, and will help better inform decision-making on the fate of infrastructure at different depths.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e0207703
JournalPLoS One
Volume13
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

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