The global depletion of inshore and continental shelf fisheries, coupled with improvements in fishing technology and growing demand for seafood, has led commercial operators to fish further out and deeper into the oceans. Some of these fisheries are in oceanic waters beyond national exclusive economic zones (EEZs), where they are subject to weak or sometimes no regulation.
Seamounts and other complex, raised seabed features in the open ocean are often hotspots of biological diversity and production. Some attract concentrations of commercially-important pelagic fish, such as tuna, and concentrations of animals such as cetaceans, seabirds, sharks and pinnipeds. Seamounts also host deep-water fish species, such as orange roughy or alfonsino, that are highly attractive to commercial operators. The limited knowledge of seamount-associated fauna to date indicates that many species grow and reproduce slowly and are therefore much more vulnerable to overexploitation.
Evidence has shown that deep-sea bottom fisheries can cause depletion of commercially-important fish stocks in just a few years and irreparable damage to slow-growing deep-seabed communities of cold water corals, sponges and other animals.
While seamounts in temperate regions around developed countries have been visited for research, those in more remote regions remain nearly unexplored. This is particularly true for the southern Indian Ocean, for which the few biological data that exist come almost exclusively from the deep-sea fishing industry or from national fisheries research programs prospecting for exploitable fish stocks. Furthermore, these data are not available to the public for reasons of commercial confidentiality. The southern Indian Ocean remains the most significant gap in current knowledge of global seamount ecology and biodiversity. Thus, conservation and management of marine biodiversity based on precautionary and ecosystem approaches is hampered by a lack of fundamental scientific knowledge and understanding of seamount ecology and their relations to benthic and pelagic fish species of commercial interest.
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