According to this report - 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 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 marines 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 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, if at all, than inshore species.
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, WWF Australia's Fisheries Officer, 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."