Distress flares fired for deep-sea species

Posted on 28 November 2003  | 
Gland, Switzerland - The deep oceans' wealth of marine life, including commercial species of fish, is highly threatened by fast expanding and largely unregulated deep-sea fisheries, and should be immediately protected from high seas fishing activities. This is the main finding of a report released today by WWF, and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. According to the report, Managing risk and uncertainty in deep-sea fisheries: lessons from orange roughy, the depletion of fisheries closer to shore and a rising demand for seafood have led to a rapid expansion of deep-sea fisheries. As much as 40 per cent of the world’s trawling grounds are now in waters deeper than 200 metres. The report reveals, for example, that orange roughy (also known as deep-sea perch) fisheries have been ‘boom and bust’, with stocks fished to commercial extinction in as little as four years. It further stresses that this expanded activity also damages sensitive marine areas, such as seamounts, where many species new to science could face extinction before even being identified. WWF and TRAFFIC are calling for urgent and strong measures, including fishing bans, to be adopted and enforced at the United Nations level in order to protect these areas. The call comes ahead of a major international conference hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the management of deep-sea fisheries (Deep-Sea 2003, 1-5 December in New Zealand). "In 25 years of commercial fishing for this species, over one million tonnes of orange roughy have been caught. These levels have proven to be unsustainable and yet still management has failed to act responsibly," said Anna Willock, Senior Fisheries Advisor at TRAFFIC and one of the co-authors of the report. "Fishing over this time has involved a number of countries, with the main fisheries in New Zealand and Australia supplying the major market in the US." The report's case studies — New Zealand, Australia, Southern Indian Ocean, and North-east Atlantic Ocean — show that the management of orange roughy fisheries has failed for a number of reasons which need to be addressed without delay. They include: a lack of understanding of the biological characteristics of the species; inadequate stock assessment models; failure to reduce capacity of fishing fleets; lack of political will to impose rigorous management decisions; and ineffective monitoring, control and surveillance measures. Deep-sea species are widely recognized as having biological characteristics that make them extremely vulnerable to intensive fishing pressure: they live a very long time, and are late to mature and slow growing. Orange roughy is a species in which these characteristics are especially pronounced, living to beyond 150 years of age and not becoming sexually mature until around 25 years of age. As a result, they are potentially slow to recover from the effects of overexploitation. Generally, deep-sea species are depleted more quickly and recover even more slowly than inshore species, if at all. WWF and TRAFFIC's report shows that the experience of orange roughy provides valuable lessons for the development of future deep-sea fisheries. Scientists are calling for a halt to fishing in places where the effects on deep-sea fish species are unknown. "Adopting a more precautionary approach to management of deep-sea species and their habitats is essential to avoid more species such as orange roughy becoming commercially non-viable and other species becoming extinct as a result of further deep-sea fishing activity," said Katherine Short, Fisheries Officer at WWF-Australia and one of the co-authors of the report. "The future development of deep-sea resources must be conditional on a full and transparent assessment of the risks involved." For further information: Peter Bryant WWF Endangered Seas Programme Tel.: +41 22 364 9028 E-mail: pbryant@wwfint.org Olivier van Bogaert Press Office, WWF International Tel.: +41 22 364 9554 E-mail: ovanbogaert@wwfint.org Maija Sirola, TRAFFIC International Tel.: +44 1223 277427 E-mail: maija.sirola@trafficint.org NOTES: • The Latin name of orange roughy is Hoplostethus atlanticus • Orange roughy fisheries are typically associated with seamounts, underwater mountains that are commonly characterized by high levels of biodiversity and high levels of endemism.

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