An international team of marine scientists and experts have recommended the cessation of most deep sea commercial fishing, calling those operations unsustainable, and urging a swift move towards fishing nearer consumers where waters are more productive.
Experts and researchers from many fields related to marine biology -- economists, ecologists, mathematicians, fisheries biologists and policy makers -- recently competed an extensive analysis of deep sea fishing, and published their findings in the early online edition of the journal Marine Policy, having concluded almost all fisheries in the deep seas are unsustainable and should be stopped, along with all government subsidies that support and encourage them, ScienceDaily reported.
The "Sustainability of deep-sea fisheries" report was completed just ahead of a UN workshop on whether to continue to allow fishing on the "high seas," the UN term for international waters.
According to the Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI) and Lenfest Ocean Program researchers, life in the depths of Earth's largest ecosystem, being farther from photosynthesis-fueling sunlight, and surviving on minimal food sources, is slower and sparser, with many deep sea fish and corals living hundreds to thousands of years, and requiring extra-long periods to repopulate after being devastated by powerful fishing technologies.
Only a tiny percentage seafood comes from the deep seas, but over-exploited coastal fisheries pushed commercial fishing steadily farther offshore since the 1970s, and now those operations, which include bottom trawling more than a mile below the surface, cause major, long-lasting damage to all kinds of seafloor life.
Populations of many deep-sea fishes around the world, including sharks, orange roughy, blue ling and rattails (also known as grenadiers) are collapsing, the authors claimed.
Orange roughy grew popular as a food fish during the 1980s and 90s, and are especially vulnerable to overfishing, because they live in slow-motion compared to coastal fish, talking about 30 years to reach reproductive maturity and living up to 125 years, according to the researchers.
Nations' subsidies of $162 million each year combined with high seas lawlessness cause overfishing, the report stated.
The authors concluded the best policy shifts include ending economically wasteful deep-sea commercial fishing, and helping displaced coastal fishing operations by redirecting subsidies and rebuilding coastal fish populations in places close to markets and ports.
One rare exception to unsustainable deep-sea fishing is the black scabbardfish fishery in the Azores, the authors noted, where the Portuguese government banned bottom trawling and promotes sustainable hook and line fishing.
Lead author marine ecologist Dr. Elliott Norse, President of the Marine Conservation Institute remarked, "Instead of overfishing the Earth's biggest but most vulnerable ecosystem, nations should recover fish populations and fish in more productive coastal waters. Deep-sea fishes are in deep trouble almost everywhere we look. Governments shouldn't be wasting taxpayers' money by keeping unsustainable fisheries afloat."
Over the past decade MCBI and other conservation organizations have questioned and researched the sustainability of deep-sea fisheries.
A September 2010 study led by the National Oceanography Centre in the UK found the physical footprint of disturbance to the deep seafloor made by bottom trawling and other commercial fishing exceeds the combined areas disturbed by all other human activities there, ScienceDaily reported.