The Patagonian toothfish: biology, ecology and fishery
Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is a large notothenioid fish that supports valuable fisheries throughout the Southern Ocean. D. eleginoides are found on the southern shelves and slopes of South America and around the sub-Antarctic islands of the Southern Ocean. Patagonian toothfish are a long-lived species (>50 years), which initially grow rapidly on the shallow shelf areas, before undertaking an ontogenetic migration into deeper water. Although they are active predators and scavengers, there is no evidence of large-scale geographic migrations, and studies using genetics, biochemistry, parasite fauna and tagging indicate a high degree of isolation between populations in the Indian Ocean, South Georgia and the Patagonian Shelf. Patagonian toothfish spawn in deep water (ca. 1000 m) during the austral winter, producing pelagic eggs and larvae. Larvae switch to a demersal habitat at around 100 mm (1-year-old) and inhabit relatively shallow water (<300 m) until 6-7 years of age, when they begin a gradual migration into deeper water. As juveniles in shallow water, toothfish are primarily piscivorous, consuming the most abundant suitably sized local prey. With increasing size and habitat depth, the diet diversifies and includes more scavenging. Toothfish have weakly mineralised skeletons and a high fat content in muscle, which helps neutral buoyancy, but limits swimming capacity. Toothfish generally swim with labriform motion, but are capable of more rapid sub-carangiform swimming when startled. Toothfish were first caught as a by-catch (as juveniles) in shallow trawl fisheries, but following the development of deep water longlining, fisheries rapidly developed throughout the Southern Ocean. The initial rapid expansion of the fishery, which led to a peak of over 40,000 tonnes in reported landings in 1995, was accompanied by problems of bird by-catch and overexploitation as a consequence of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU). These problems have now largely been addressed, but continued vigilance is required to ensure that the species is sustainably exploited and the ecosystem effects of the fisheries are minimised.
Authors: Collins, Martin Anthony, Brickle, Paul, Brown, Judith, Belchier, Mark