The Telegraph , 05 January 2006

Deep-water fish 'are facing extinction'

Trawling the ocean depths is pushing fish that inhabit the deepest waters dangerously close to extinction.

A study has shown population declines of up to 98 per cent in five representative species in just 17 years. "Urgent action is needed for the sustainable management of deep-sea fisheries," said Ms Jennifer Devine who reports the decline today in Nature with colleagues from Memorial University, Newfoundland.

Because the study is based on taking a new look at research data that is a few years old, the plight of the species is parlous and "immediate action is needed," said Ms Devine.

Fish that live in the deep sea became increasingly threatened as numbers of continental shelf species dwindled in the 1960s and 1970s.

The scientists focused on five species living on or near the bottom of the North Atlantic continental slope, in Canadian waters. These were the roundnose grenadier, onion-eyed grenadier, blue hake, spiny eel, and spinytail skate.

They are especially vulnerable because they mature late, grow slowly, and have few offspring. They also live for up to 60 years - so generational turnover is slow.

"Any unselective fishing method, such as bottom trawling, will catch many species," said Ms Devine. "There is a desperate need for immediate action."

The team studied catch data from trawl surveys covering the period 1978 to 1994 and found declines ranging from 87 per cent to 98 per cent.

"One possible method of halting these declines may be the use of marine protected areas for these species," said Ms Devine.