Eating to the brink of extinction

Eating to the brink of extinction

For centuries, the deepwater orange roughy lives its slow and peaceful life at the bottom of the dark seafloor. Its existence became known to man when new technology reaches new depth in the 1970s. Within the decade of discovery, orange roughy recipes bloom, little did anyone anticipate that we are eating them to extinction.

In our world where psychology perceptions are deeply rooted in our purchasing decision, the mind-reading marketers wasted no time in changing its original name, Slimehead, given for its distinctive mucus canals present on its head to the commonly known orange roughy. I wonder if without the name makeover could save it from being in high demand and a fashionable menu of the 70s? For the sound of Slimehead fish and chips would cause anyone to pull a face in disgust and pushed the idea aside before our tongue starts to taste weird for a split second.

Considered as one of the longest living marine species, orange roughy can be found around the world but mostly saturated off the coast of New Zealand and Australia. It can live up to over 200 years, that five times the regular fish! It only starts maturing and capable of reproducing at the age of 20 years, making their lifespan unique and late reproduction extremely vulnerable to extensive overfishing especially the use of bottom trawling method.

The destructibility of bottom trawling is truly lethal for it destroys far more ocean habitat than any other fishing practice. The large weighted nets are mechanically cast and dragged across the seafloor, trapping all marine lives that cross its path. Though species not wanted for commercial gains like marine mammals, turtles, corals, and plants were later tossed back into the ocean, their survival rate is almost zero.

The damages don’t stop there, as the ship swipes through the sea, the studded bottom part of the nets plow through the centuries-old sea coral, destroying the ecosystem, smothering them to bits. The stirred up clouds of mud and debris would suspend long after the ship was gone, these pollutants were then mixed into plankton continuing its journey in the food chain, creating oxygen-deficient dead zones.

With the alarmingly fragile number of orange roughy due to overfishing, it would take at least half-century or longer before it can recover because of its slow rebound rate. What humans can do for the sack of profit is unimaginable but I believe that we are made up of more than that, and so did some passionate ones who made it happened by implementing fisheries management plans. It is by no mean an easy quest and constant conservation effort is needed to uphold them. There is plenty of fish in the sea — until there aren’t.

Cover photo by Global Ocean Commission

Words by Buranee Soh

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