The rough deal

I remember when I was younger and there was a big media release on the abundance of Orange Roughy – “everyone should eat it instead of other fish, there are so many of them, sustainable for centuries”, etc, etc, and because there was so many all the fish and chip shops started selling Orange Roughy. I also remember my father (way ahead of his time in enviromental issues) saying that nothing is sustainable at those numbers and that if everyone fished for Orange Roughy they would soon be gone, he wouldn’t buy Orange Roughy because of the media hype about it – well, how right he was in predicting the overfishing of this very beautiful fish. Mother Nature is delicately balanced and by changing just one thing it can lead to a chain of events of changing alot more. Not enough is known about the deep sea ecosystem to be able to even estimate the effects of the elimination of a mid-range predator, like the Orange Roughy. The sea is full of life, the Orange Roughy is a cog in the wheel of the sea, important in it’s own right.

The Orange Roughy eats small fish, crustaceans and squid, an opportunistic feeder. They are slow-growing and long-lived. The lifespan of the Orange Roughy exceeds that of humans, anywhere from 100-years to 145-years or so and reaching maturity around 30-years of age. Because they mature at a slow rate and the amount of the fishing of this species it means that over fishing has greatly reduced their numbers – exceedingly so. Any fishing of this long-lived species is not sustainable.

It’s estimated that over one million tonnes of Orange Roughy have been exploited, and this is only since the fishing of Orange Roughy started, about 25-years ago. What will the number be next year? What will the number be in ten-years? What if there were none left?

The first Orange Roughy fishery started in New Zealand around a seamount area called Chatham Rise. It started in the late 1970’s but declined rapidly after 1979. Each winter Orange Roughy migrate to specific sites on the Chatham Rise, where they aggregate in large numbers to spawn. This is the area that supported the greatest fishing of this species at the time. There are other seamount areas that have since also suffered greatly from the fishing of this species. The fishing industry have incredibly high levels of catches for a couple of years and then rapidly decline to low levels without recovering – hence the reason for changing the areas of fishing for Orange Roughy. Also the Orange Roughy spawn irregularly.

The way that Orange Roughy is fished is by bottom trawling. Bottom trawling is extremely destructive to the ocean. In trawling for Orange Roughy there are very high by-catch numbers and the mortality for these other deep sea species is nearly 100%.

The environment of the deep sea is fragile and slow to recover after the trawl path has destroyed the sea bed and communities on the sea floor. Sediment disturbance also have destructive effects over very large areas. Immediate gratifying dollar signs in the eyes of the greedy but total devastation to the future of the Orange Roughy, to other species and to our planet. Same with the Hoki, but that is another exploitation, and another story. So, in the meantime – Orange Roughy – if the demand wasn’t there, the exploitation wouldn’t be either. Do not support the exploitation of this remarkable fish and this remarkable planets sea bed. Say NO!

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