Productivity and change in fish and squid in the Southern Ocean
Southern Ocean ecosystems are globally important and vulnerable to global drivers of change, yet they remain challenging to study. Fish and squid make up a significant portion of the biomass within the Southern Ocean, filling key roles in food webs from forage to mid-trophic species and top predators. They comprise a diverse array of species uniquely adapted to the extreme habitats of the region. Adaptations such as antifreeze glycoproteins, lipid-retention, extended larval phases, delayed senescence, and energy-conserving life strategies equip Antarctic fish and squid to withstand the dark winters and yearlong subzero temperatures experienced in much of the Southern Ocean. In addition to krill exploitation, the comparatively high commercial value of Antarctic fish, particularly the lucrative toothfish, drives fisheries interests, which has included illegal fishing. Uncertainty about the population dynamics of target species and ecosystem structure and function more broadly has necessitated a precautionary, ecosystem approach to managing these stocks and enabling the recovery of depleted species. Fisheries currently remain the major local driver of change in Southern Ocean fish productivity, but global climate change presents an even greater challenge to assessing future changes. Parts of the Southern Ocean are experiencing ocean-warming, such as the West Antarctic Peninsula, while other areas, such as the Ross Sea shelf, have undergone cooling in recent years. These trends are expected to result in a redistribution of species based on their tolerances to different temperature regimes. Climate variability may impair the migratory response of these species to environmental change, while imposing increased pressures on recruitment. Fisheries and climate change, coupled with related local and global drivers such as pollution and sea ice change, have the potential to produce synergistic impacts that compound the risks to Antarctic fish and squid species. The uncertainty surrounding how different species will respond to these challenges, given their varying life histories, environmental dependencies, and resiliencies, necessitates regular assessment to inform conservation and management decisions. Urgent attention is needed to determine whether the current management strategies are suitably precautionary to achieve conservation objectives in light of the impending changes to the ecosystem.
Authors: Caccavo, Jilda Alicia, Christiansen, Henrik, Constable, Andrew J., Ghigliotti, Laura, Trebilco, Rowan, Brooks, Cassandra M., Cotte, Cédric, Desvignes, Thomas, Dornan, Tracey ORCID record for Tracey Dornan, Jones, Christopher D., Koubbi, Philippe, Saunders, Ryan A. ORCID record for Ryan A. Saunders, Strobel, Anneli, Vacchi, Marino, van de Putte, Anton P., Walters, Andrea, Waluda, Claire M. ORCID record for Claire M. Waluda, Woods, Briannyn L., Xavier, José C. ORCID record for José C. Xavier