Research on abundance and composition of fish assemblages surrounding offshore extraction platforms is essential to evaluate their impact as well as to understand relationships between natural and artificial habitats. Also decommissioning practice, which belongs to the lifecycle of these structures, can be encouraged or discouraged if fish school behaviour in the close proximity of the platform is well understood. With thousands of platforms to be decommissioned around the world in coming decades, understanding such dynamic interactions is key to improve spatial management of marine ecosystems. In this context, this study drafts a work plan that can be used to investigate fish presence and abundance, school movement and qualitative species composition around a platform over long time periods. It integrates fishing captures, multibeam echosounder (MBES) investigations, and drop camera shootings to overcome the limitations of the individual methods. Monthly samplings were conducted at a three-leg gas extraction platform placed at ~80 m depth in the central Adriatic Sea, for one year after its installation. MBES completely insonified the studied area, providing data on school shape, volume, surface area and position throughout the water column. Fishing captures were useful for MBES targets' identification by measuring the presence/abundance of nekto-benthic and pelagic species both in the nearby of the structure and in the open sea, while drop camera shootings added evidence of a few species in close proximity to the poles, which were not censused by the other methods. Results underlined the strong attraction exerted by the platform and the significant influence of the explanatory variable distance on the schools' nominal volume.
Keywords: Adriatic sea; Artificial habitat; Environmental impact; Fish assemblages; Integrated monitoring; Offshore structures.
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