Original Articles

A review of orange roughy Hoplostethus atlanticus fisheries, estimation methods, biology and stock structure


Abstract

Orange roughy Hoplostethus atlanticus are unusual fish. They form dense aggregations that have fuelled lucrative fisheries at great depths (600–1 400 m), especially off Namibia, New Zealand and Australia. They are thought to be very long-lived (>100 years, maturity at 22 – 40 years), and to have exceptionally low natural mortality (M = 0.045–0.064 year−1) and slow growth rates (K = 0.055–0.070 year−1). In addition, they spawn large eggs and have low fecundity. These factors combine to make orange roughy highly susceptible to overfishing; most stocks are below 30% of pristine levels. Assessments are obtained from indices of catch rate and trawl, acoustic and egg surveys. Acoustic estimates are the most direct, but are confounded by the species' low target strength (−50 to −53 dB)–attributable to the wax-filled swim bladder. Extracellular wax esters are stored in abundance and comprise mostly mono-unsaturated fatty acids, with low concentrations of the ω-3 fatty acid family. This unusual composition (resultant from the species' diet) ensures neutral buoyancy. Stock separation has been inferred mainly from biological studies, but genetic studies have also found differences among stocks within New Zealand and Australia. Deep-water habitat may be damaged by trawling operations and may take many years to recover, so in some quarters there is a call for a portion of suitable habitat to be set aside for preservation. Although Namibian orange roughy are shallower, smaller and younger than those in other stocks, the Namibian fishery sustained high catches for only a few years before quotas were reduced, from 12 000 to 1 875 tons. Three management lessons are suggested for developing orange roughy fisheries based on the Namibian experience: (1) imposition of catch limits during exploratory fishing; (2) starting the acoustic surveys earlier in the fishery, if possible; (3) greater reliance on trends in catch rate until a survey series has been established.

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