January 4, 2006

Action Needed to Protect Deep-sea Fish: Scientists

LONDON (Reuters) - Protected ocean areas are needed to save deep-sea fish which have been driven to near extinction by commercial fishing, scientists said on Wednesday.

Researchers at Memorial University in St John's Newfoundland in Canada studied fish that live near the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. They found that five species have declined by 89-98 percent between 1978 and 1994.

"Our results indicate that urgent action is needed for the sustainable management of deep-sea fisheries," Jennifer Devine and her colleagues said in the journal Nature.

They analyzed data on the five species of fish: the roundnose grenadier, onion-eye grenadier, blue hake, spiny eel and spinytail skate.

Based on their findings, all can be classified as critically endangered according to guidelines set by The World Conservation Union (IUCN), a Swiss-based, multinational organization founded in 1948.

"The declines occurred on a timescale equal to, or slightly less than, a single generation of these species," said Devine.

Deep-sea fish grow slowly, mature late, live long and have low fertility rates which make them very vulnerable to over-fishing.

The species in the study can live up to 60 years, measure a meter (yard) in length and do not mature until their teens. The scientists said the decline in the fish they studied began after commercial fishing shifted to the deep seas following the drop in numbers of other types of fish in the 1960s and 1970s.

Scientific investigation lags behind the collapse of deep-sea fisheries, Devine said.

"Conservation measures are needed and lack of knowledge must not delay appropriate initiatives, including the establishment of deep-sea protected areas," she added.