Large mesopelagic fish biomass in the Southern Ocean resolved by acoustic properties
The oceanic mesopelagic zone, 200–1000 m below sea level, holds abundant small fishes that play central roles in ecosystem function. Global mesopelagic fish biomass estimates are increasingly derived using active acoustics, where echosounder-generated signals are emitted, reflected by pelagic organisms and detected by transducers on vessels. Previous studies have interpreted a ubiquitous decline in acoustic reflectance towards the Antarctic continent as a reduction in mesopelagic fish biomass. Here, we use empirical data to estimate species-specific acoustic target strength for the dominant mesopelagic fish of the Scotia Sea in the Southern Ocean. We use these data, alongside estimates of fish relative abundance from net surveys, to interpret signals received in acoustic surveys and calculate mesopelagic biomass of the broader Southern Ocean. We estimate the Southern Ocean mesopelagic fish biomass to be approximately 274 million tonnes if Antarctic krill contribute to the acoustic signal, or 570 million tonnes if mesopelagic fish alone are responsible. These quantities are approximately 1.8 and 3.8 times greater than previous net-based biomass estimates. We also show a peak in fish biomass towards the seasonal ice-edge, corresponding to the preferred feeding grounds of penguins and seals, which may be at risk under future climate change scenarios. Our study provides new insights into the abundance and distributions of ecologically significant mesopelagic fish stocks across the Southern Ocean ecosystem.
Authors: Dornan, Tracey ORCID record for Tracey Dornan, Fielding, Sophie ORCID record for Sophie Fielding, Saunders, Ryan A. ORCID record for Ryan A. Saunders, Genner, Martin J.