Environment Thursday, August 28, 2003. Post by Ricky James
The plight of seamounts was recently addressed by a conference in Newport, Oregon, organized by Stocks and others. As reported in The Telegraph, there are ready markets for certain fish that live on seamounts, among them the orange roughy, alfonsino and deep-water red fish. Once discovered, these new sources often quickly collapse. Bottom-trawl fishing practices are particularly damaging to underwater corals and the thriving bottom-dwelling communities supported by these fragile habitats. Efforts are underway to catalog just how extensive this damage is.
Seamounts, fully submerged mountains rising 1,000 or more yards from the ocean floor, are found throughout the world. Of the estimated 30,000 seamounts in the Pacific, only 220 to 250 have been studied, fewer than 150 of them in detail. Only 1,000 seamounts have been named worldwide.
Seamount species are sustained by food carried by currents. Nutrient-rich water is deflected upwards by their slopes, picking up speed as it rushes over the summit. Close to the summit, thriving communities of suspension feeders, such as corals, sponges and sea fans, filter organic matter from the passing water. Orange roughy, for instance, feed on prawns, squid, and small fish that drift by. Farther down the slopes of a seamount, coral communities become more sparse.
As reported in SFGate, the ocean-protection group Oceana has just issued a report, “Deep Sea Corals: Out of Sight, But No Longer Out of Mind,” that calls for creation of protected areas, increased monitoring of fishing boats, and possible bans on certain fishing equipment and practices. Federal authorities also are getting involved. The National Marine Fisheries Service is preparing an environmental impact statement on ocean trawlers in the Pacific, expected to be made public in September.
Dr. Frederick Grassle, of Rutgers University, New Jersey, told the conference: “We know that seamounts support large pools of undiscovered species, but we cannot yet predict what is on the unstudied ones. The tragedy is that we may never know how many species become extinct before they are even identified.”
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