Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on May 9, 2008
VU for vulnerable. That’s how the World Conservation Union’s Red List categorizes the orange roughy. Which means it’s “considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild”. So, to prevent them going the way of the Dodo, you’d think we’d simply stop catching them, right?
Err, wrong. According to a 2003 report by the World Wildlife Fund and Traffic, reckless and unregulated deep water fishing is rapidly causing the demise of the orange roughy.
Orange roughy favor the deep ocean seamounts and plateaus off the coast of New Zealand and Australia, Namibia and the northeast Atlantic Ocean. Once known as slimeheads, orange roughy were renamed by New Zealanders because of their bright orange color and rough scales. (And because — let’s face it — it sounds more appetizing than “slimeheads”.) The PR campaign has certainly worked a treat. In a land where convenience is king, Americans can’t get enough of the boneless, mild tasting, firm white fillets that seem perfect for freezing. According to TerraNature, the US is, in fact, the biggest importer of the orange roughy, “importing more than 19 million pounds annually in recent years, accounting for nearly 90 percent of documented catches”, while New Zealand is the main supplier “providing more than 60% of United States imports in 2002″. I knew those hobbits were trouble.
Like humans, the orange roughy can live up to 100 years or more. Also like humans, they don’t breed until they are at least 20 years of age (well, some humans anyway, Jamie Lynn Spears aside). Fisherman often catch orange roughy during breeding time, which wipes out entire generations. Add to that the long life cycle and low fecundity of this deep sea fish, which means it’s more susceptible to extinction from bottom trawling and alike than its off shore counterparts.
So next time you’re craving fish for supper, be smart. Or go “G” and stop eating fish altogether. The roughy and others will thank you.