Fishing at the Bottom of the Earth: The Ross Sea Antarctic Toothfish

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In October of 2014, nations gathered to discuss protection of the Ross Sea, Antarctica a region publicized as The Last Ocean due to its high ecological and conservation value. Instead of designating a marine reserve, nations agreed to continue fishing in this most remote stretch of ocean. Vessels venture into these ice-choked waters, risking life and limb, for Antarctic toothfish, the top fish predator in the Southern Ocean. These huge fish, sold on the market as “Chilean sea bass” are also known as “White Gold” for the incredible price they fetch in up-scale markets across the world. These incredible fish thrive at the edge of possibility – only surviving the frozen Antarctic waters due to the anti-freeze in their blood. Like many deep-dwelling fish, they are long-lived, late to mature and slow-growing, making them more vulnerable to overexploitation. The largest fish have already been removed from the Ross Sea, with potential impacts cascading throughout the ecosystem. While ending the fishery may not be politically feasible, designating a marine protected area, which includes regions off-limits to fishing, would be a powerful management tool to ensure that toothfish and the greater Ross Sea ecosystem endures for many generations to come.

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