Deep-water fisheries at the Atlantic frontier

John D M Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


The deep sea is often thought of as a cold, dark and uniform environment with a low-fish biomass, much of which is highly adapted for life in a food-poor environment. While this might be true of the pelagic fish living in the water column, it is certainly not true of the demersal fish which live on or close to the bottom on the continental slopes around the British Isles (the Atlantic Frontier). These fish are currently being commercially exploited. There is growing evidence to support the view that success of the demersal fish assemblages depends on the pelagic or benthopelagic food sources that impinge both vertically and horizontally onto the slope. There are several quite separate and distinct deep-water fisheries on the Atlantic Frontier. It is a physical barrier, the Wyville-Thomson Ridge, which results in the most significant division of the fisheries. The Ridge, which has a minimum depth of about 500 m, separates the warmer deep Atlantic waters from the much colder Norwegian Sea water and as a result, the deep-water fisheries to the west of the Hebrides and around the offshore banks are quite different from those of the Faroe-Shetland Channel (West of Shetland). The fisheries to the West of the Hebrides can be further divided by the fishing method used into bottom trawl, semipelagic trawl and longline. The bottom-trawl fisheries extend from the shelf-slope break down to about 1700 m and the target species varies with depth. The smallest vessels in the fleet fish on the upper slope, where an important target species is the anglerfish or monkfish (Lophius spp.). On the mid-slope the main target species are blue ling (Molva dypterygia) and roundnose grenadier (Coryphaenoides rupestris), with bycatches of black scabbardfish (Aphanopus carbo) and deep-water sharks. On the lower slope orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) is an important target species. The major semipelagic trawl fishery is a seasonal fishery on spawning aggregations of blue whiting (Micromesistitus poutassou). The other semipelagic fishery is on spawning aggregations of the greater silver smelt or argentine (Argentina silus). Spanish and UK vessels that target mainly hake (Merluccius merluccius) and a Norwegian fleet that targets ling (Molva molva), blue ling and tusk (Biosme brosme) dominate the upper slope longline fishery. West of Shetland, the fishery on the upper slope has some similarities with that of the Hebridean slope, with anglerfish and blue ling being important target species. A quite different fishery occurs in the transition zone between the Atlantic and Norwegian Sea waters. Here the main target species is Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides). Below the transition zone biomass decreases rapidly and there is no fishery. It is generally agreed that many deep-water species have slow growth, a high age at first maturity and a low fecundity, which makes them vulnerable to over-exploitation. Other features of these fishes such as high mortality of discards and escapees will add to the problems. Despite this the only management procedures in place are general limitation of effort measures within the area of jurisdiction of the European Union. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. Ah rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)987-1003
Number of pages17
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • SEA
  • Oceanography


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