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Deepsea fisheries - Rough seas for orange roughy

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A fish as old as the bloody hills

Orange roughy predominantly live around the deep ocean seamounts, and plateaus just off the continental shelf, at depths from 700 to 1,500 metres.

It has one of the longest lives of all marine species - 120 to 130 years of age. It is thought that orange roughy mature and start reproducing between 23 and 32 years of age.  They have a low fecundity and produce low egg counts compared to other fish - 40,000 to 60,000 eggs.

They grow to a length of 50 cm and weigh up to 3.6 kg, but are commonly caught when they are 35-45 cm long and weigh 0.8 to 1.5 kg.

Long living deepsea fish are slow to recover from fishing.  Generally, deepsea species are depleted more rapidly and recover more slowly, if at all, than inshore fish.

Australia adds Orange Roughy to threatened species list

9 November 2006

The orange roughy fish species will be added to the threatened species list under Australian environment law, the Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, announced today.

Orange roughy is Australia's first commercially harvested fish to be listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Orange roughy will be listed as conservation dependent, and will be managed subject to a conservation programme to be implemented by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).

“Scientific advice to me indicated that orange roughy is under considerable pressure and protection under environment law is needed if the species is to have any chance of long-term survival,” Senator Campbell said.

The conservation programme will protect orange roughy from over-fishing, in part by prohibiting targeted fishing in fishing zones.

Catch limits at the Cascade Plateau will be set at levels that will conserve the species.  AFMA has already announced a reduction in the zone’s 2007 total allowable orange roughy catch.

“My decision to add the orange roughy to the threatened species list follows careful consideration of the scientific information, as well as extensive consultation with experts and the public,” Senator Campbell said.

Orange roughy are found in south-eastern and south-western Australia, the Great Australian Bight and around Tasmania, and have been one of the primary species caught in Australia’s south-east fisheries since the late 1980s.


Orange roughy Hoplostethus atlanticus have the capacity to school in millions, especially around seamounts during feeding and spawning when they are targeted by commercial fishers.

Orange roughy is caught by bottom trawling, the most destructive practice on the marine environment the world has ever known.

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New Zealand faces difficulties with managing orange roughy fisheries

Australia's action to protect orange roughy come just one month after New Zealand announced reductions in commercial catch limits for orange roughy, from the start of the new fishing year on 1 October 2006.

The commercial catch limits for orange roughy in the northern North Island will be reduced by 43 percent to 800 tonnes per year.

The commercial limits for the Chatham Rise and southern New Zealand fishery will be reduced by almost 10 percent to 11,500 tonnes.

The Minister of Fisheries, Jim Anderton, said he is aware of the ongoing difficulties of managing the orange roughy fisheries and he’ll be monitoring the fishery to ensure catch limits are set at a sustainable level.

Continued reduction of the quota raises questions about the sustainability of orange roughy.  It comes at a time when a moratorium is being negotiated at the United Nations for bottom trawling, the fishing practice used to catch orange roughy.

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