Pulse trawling: Evaluating its impact on prey detection by small-spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula)
Pulse fishing may pose a promising alternative for diminishing the ecosystem effects of beam trawling. However, concerns about the impact on both target and non-target species still remain, amongst others the possible damage to the electro-receptor organs, the Ampullae of Lorenzini, of elasmobranchs. The current study aimed to examine the role of pulsed direct current (PDC) used in pulse trawls on the electro-detection ability of the small-spotted catshark, Scyliorhinus canicula. The electroresponse of the sharks to an artificially created prey-simulating electrical field was tested before and after exposure to the pulsed electrical field used to catch flatfish and shrimp. No statistically significant differences were noted between control and exposed animals, both in terms of the number of sharks exhibiting an electroresponse prior to and following exposure as well as regarding the timing between onset of searching behaviour and biting at the prey simulating dipole. These results indicate that, under the laboratory circumstances as adopted in this study, the small-spotted catshark are still able to detect the bioelectrical field of a prey following exposure to PDC used in pulse trawls. However, to fully grasp the impact of PDC on elasmobranchs, further studies are imperative, including examining the effect on reproduction and young life stages, the longer-term and indirect influences and experiments under field conditions.