NZ shows how not to manage deep sea fisheries - WWF
"The New Zealand orange roughy fishing industry has been held up by environmentalists as a model of how not to manage deep sea fisheries"
28 November 2003
New Zealand Herald

Trawlers blamed for plight of underwater 'rainforest'
"Scientists have raised the alarm about fishing trawlers that are destroying deepwater coral around New Zealand"
2 June 2003
New Zealand Herald

Deep sea life also needs protection
"When fishermen in the Ross Sea hauled up the second-ever intact specimen of what is being termed the "colossal squid", the world wanted to know more"
2 June 2003
New Zealand Herald

Home > Environmental issues > Article >

Rough seas for orange roughy:
Popular U.S. fish import in jeopardy

World Wildlife Fund Release
WASHINGTON 30 December 2003

Reckless overfishing is rapidly causing the demise of orange roughy and other imported fish species popular with U.S. consumers, according to a new scientific study released by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC.  The study finds that rapidly expanding and unregulated fishing in deep waters is fast depleting species that could become commercially extinct if protective measures are not taken immediately by international governing bodies.

"The report shows that some deep ocean fish stocks, like orange roughy, have been wiped out in less than four years," said Simon Habel, director of TRAFFIC-North America, the wildlife trade-monitoring network.

"As Americans buy more and more orange roughy, they contribute to the pressures that could ultimately take the fish right off their plates and out of the seas as well."  The United States is a significant and growing market for orange roughy, importing more than 19 million pounds annually in recent years and accounting for nearly 90 percent of documented catches.

A rising demand for seafood, and severe depletion of fish stocks closer to shore, has led to the rapid expansion of deepsea fisheries and subsequent damage to sensitive marine areas, especially seamounts, where many species new to science could soon face extinction before even being identified.

A haul of orange roughy. Photo AFMA

"We are calling for urgent and strong protection measures to protect orange roughy populations and particularly sensitive marine areas such as seamounts," said Kim Davis, deputy director of WWF's Marine Conservation Program.

"Unchecked growth of fishing fleets and ineffective fleet monitoring have been especially damaging to orange roughy fisheries and deepsea resources in New Zealand, Australia, the Southern Indian Ocean, and the Northeast Atlantic Ocean.  These are basic failures of management that must be reversed if we are to ensure the survival and the commercial viability of these species"

Additional problems identified in the report include poor understanding of biological characteristics of the species, inadequate stock assessment models a lack of political will needed to impose rigorous management decisions and the failure to support management decisions that are implemented with effective monitoring, control and surveillance measures.

"The report reveals that orange roughy fisheries have been managed poorly, or not managed at all," added Davis.  "This research provides valuable lessons for the future development of deepsea fisheries. It shows that we must learn from our mistakes - and explore, not destroy, the resources of our last frontier."

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

If not caught, orange roughy have one of the longest lives of all marine species - perhaps more than 150 years.  It has the capacity to school in millions around seamounts, especially during feeding and spawning when they are targeted by fishers.

It is thought that orange roughy mature and start reproducing between 20 and 40 years of age.  They have a low fecundity and produce low egg counts compared to other fish.

They grow to a length of 60 cm and weigh up to 3.5 kg, but are commonly caught when they are 35-45 cm long and weigh between 0.8 and 1.5 kg.

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

See the complete WWF report "Managing risk and uncertainty in deepsea fisheries: Lessons from orange roughy"
PDF format, 83 pages

Orange roughy have firm flesh that produces a white, boneless fillet that is amenable to freezing, and have proven quite popular with United States consumers.

Once commonly known as slimeheads, orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) were renamed by New Zealanders to reflect the bright orange color and rough scales of the fish, and to sound more palatable to consumers.

According to the WWF report, the United States is the main importer of orange roughy.

New Zealand is the main supplier, providing more than 60 percent of United States imports in 2002, followed by China (18 percent) and Australia (17 percent).

Namibia was a major supplier, experiencing rapid expansion of its fishery and accounting for nearly one-third of United States imports in the mid-1990's.  Later, that same fishery declined rapidly and Namibia accounted for only 2 percent of United States imports in 2002.

Copyright © 2004 TerraNature Trust. All rights reserved.

home | sponsors | latest news & events | join - donate | contact information | projects
volunteer activities | about us | search terranature | environmental issues | New Zealand ecology