Exploratory deep-sea fishing in the Falkland Islands, south-western Atlantic



Records of demersal deep-sea fish assemblages in waters around the Falkland Islands (Patagonian shelf area) are rare. Twenty deep-water stations to the east and south of the Falkland Islands were sampled by commercial bottom trawl deployed in upper, middle and lower benthopelagic zones (depth range of approximately 500-1000 m). Forty-one species (22 families) of teleost fish were recorded, 10 species (two families) of elasmobranch and one species of agnathan. Different assemblages of fish were found to characterize each depth zone (e.g. Moridae in deeper waters, Bothidae and Rajidae in shallower waters), with diversity being greatest in the mid-zone and biomass greatest in the upper and lower zones. Some species occurred in all zones but showed depth-related abundance. Four species, namely the grenadiers Macrourus carinutus and Coelorhynchus fasciatus, the southern blue whiting Micromesistius australis, and the Patagonian toothfish Dissostichus eleginoides, accounted for 85% by weight of all fish caught. Quantitative sampling of selected species revealed depth-related variations in their population structure. Length-frequency analyses are presented for M. carinatus and D. eleginoides and show a tendency for larger individuals to inhabit deeper water. Discard rates from the commercial catch were sometimes high, particularly for the smaller species, raising concerns about the impact of a fishery on by-catch species. The potential for deep-sea fisheries in Falkland waters is discussed and further studies are suggested in the light of developing oil, gas and fishing industries. The presence of some invertebrate taxa is recorded.