Biggest zone closed to fishing announced in the Southern Indian Ocean

IUCN 17 Oct 13;

Two high-seas areas in the Southern Indian Ocean have been added to the network of zones that are closed to deepwater trawling by a fishing industry group, making it the largest such enclosure in the world – IUCN and the Southern Indian Ocean Deepwater Fishers Association (SIODFA) announced today.

Together with the 11 areas that were voluntarily closed to fishing by SIODFA in 2006, the new closures will help protect and conserve the so-called “benthic zone” – the area at the bottom of the sea – and its associated biodiversity. The combined zones cover an area approximately the size of Norway.

“By putting in place self-imposed restrictions with the aim to maintain unsubsidized, profitable and environmentally-sustainable fisheries, SIODFA is setting international best practice for responsible deep-sea fishery management,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of the IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme. “We hope that others will follow this example, recognizing how important it is to protect and sustainably use marine resources.”

The two areas now closed to fishing include the Banana Seafloor Feature – an isolated rocky feature off the coast of Madagascar – and a part of the Middle of What seamount of the South West Indian Ridge. These seafloor features are home to coldwater corals and sponges, as well as commercially important fish species, such as alfonsino and the orange roughy. They are often hotspots of marine life and support globally significant biodiversity. Sharks, tuna, marine mammals and seabirds congregate over seamounts to feed.

“By making these areas unavailable to fishing, SIODFA members hope to contribute to the protection and management of their rich and fragile resources,” says Graham Patchell, Chief Scientist of SIODFA.

Bottom trawling can cause significant damage to deep-sea communities which grow and reproduce slowly. The orange roughy, for example, becomes sexually mature at 30-40 years of age and coral reefs are believed to take hundreds, or even thousands of years to recover from physical damage. Indiscriminate fishing has damaged sea-floor fauna in the past.

Formed in 2006, SIODFA is committed to biologically-sustainable and economically-viable commercial fishing operations in the Southern Indian Ocean. Its members include Austral Fisheries Pty Ltd, (Perth, Australia), Kanai Fisheries Ltd (Hokkaido, Japan) Sealord Group (Nelson, New Zealand) and ORAFCO (Jersey, U.K.).