Hard-bottom habitats support commercially important fish species: a systematic review for the North Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea

Hugo Flavio, Rochelle Seitz*, David Eggleston, Jon C. Svendsen, Josianne Støttrup

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Hard-bottom habitats span a range of natural substrates (e.g., boulders, cobble) and artificial habitats (e.g., the base of wind turbines, oil platforms). These hard-bottom habitats can provide a variety of ecosystem services, ranging from the enhancement of fish biomass and production to providing erosion control. Management decisions regarding the construction or fate of hard-bottom habitats require information on the ecological functions of these habitats, particularly for species targeted in ecosystem-based fisheries management. This study provides a systematic review of the relationships of various hard-bottom habitats to individual commercially harvested species that are managed jointly across the Atlantic by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). We systemically reviewed peer-reviewed publications on hard-bottom habitats including both some natural and artificial reefs, after applying various exclusion criteria. Most studies were conducted on near-shore hard-bottom habitats, and habitat importance varied according to fish species and region. We quantified the frequency with which studies demonstrate that natural and artificial hard-bottom habitats function as spawning grounds, settlement and nursery areas, and foraging grounds, as well as provide stepping-stones during migration, or new home ranges. Hard-bottom habitats generally support higher fish densities than surrounding habitat types, although not all fish species benefit from hard-bottom habitats. Of the commercially important species, cod (Gadus morhua) was the most frequently studied species, with enhanced biomass, density, feeding, and spawning on hard-bottom habitats compared to unstructured habitats. Moreover, hard-bottom habitats appear to be of particular importance for spawning of herring (Clupea harengus). Collectively, data indicate that loss of hard-bottom habitats may translate into less-favourable conditions for spawning and biomass of diverse commercial species, including cod and herring.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14681
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Reefs
  • Fish abundance
  • Spawning grounds
  • Essential fish habitat


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