The vessels in this fishery operate far from land in depths of water from 500 to 1200m: they may not see another vessel for the up-to-10 weeks they may be at sea. Fishing operations are undertaken exclusively using aimed trawling. This fishing method is fundamentally different to that of traditional demersal trawling. In deep-sea fisheries in e.g., parts of the N.E. Atlantic, the trawl may be towed along the bottom for usually 4 to 6 hrs but up to 12 hours if no fish is seen entering the net. During this time the skipper hopes that the trawl will pass through concentrations of fish. Fishing operations using aimed trawling are different! Fish aggregation must be first located and the gear is only then set when the aggregations are in an area where fishing operations are possible. As such, aimed-trawling in the SIO is associated with usually specific areas of bottom features such as ridges, knolls and, at times, seamounts.
Fishing tactics depend on whether the skipper is targeting orange roughy or alfonsino. Orange roughy fisheries in the SIO are characteristically during the (austral) winter and fishing may occur during the day and night. Often the fish location changes dramatically from one year to another, a function of the highly dynamic oceanography of the south-west Indian Ocean: thus, successful operators must have knowledge of a wide range (>200) of seafloor features over an enormous expanse of ocean where the fish may potentially occur. Then, many sea floor features may have rough bottoms that prevent fishing in all but well defined fishing lanes: On some sea floor feature boats have had to queue to make their shot.
The trawl may be up to two kilometres behind and beneath the vessel. Despite this, GPS satellite navigation (accuracy ±10 m rms) and acoustic instrumentation (accuracy of centimetres) enable a relatively small trawl (foot rope length 20 m) to be precisely positioned both with respect to the targeted fish and the bottom. When fishing orange roughy the foot rope is characteristically in contact with the bottom for two to twenty minutes so most of the time the gear is in the water the net is being shot, positioned or retrieved. As the trawl doors are held off the bottom the amount of sea bed touched by fishing gear during a tow or shot is minimal.
When the skipper targets alfonsino, a different, midwater, trawl is used. In these cases the trawl may not make contact with the bottom at all. Indeed, the normal absence of benthic bycatch when midwater trawling for alfonsino confirms the rarity of bottom contact with this type of fishing. Alfonsino are highly mobile ‘difficult-to-catch’ and fishing is usually no successful when undertaken during the day as the fish can avoid the gear.
The vessels used in this fishery are factory trawlers capable of staying at sea for up to 10 weeks. They can process the catch in the form required by the market, e.g. frozen whole, dressed, filleted, etc. Crew size depends on the size of the vessel: in the case of the SIODFA boats it ranges from 30 to 42. The vessels themselves were built in various countries: Scotland, Italy, Japan and Germany and range in length from 74 to 87 m. All vessels are equipped with SIMRAD ES60 acoustic systems that enables them to undertake aggregation-based acoustic stock assessment surveys. Two of the vessels actively use underwater video systems and are further refining this technique for on-site identification of ‘vulnerable marine ecosystems’.
Represents the interests of deep-sea fishing operators of the southern Indian Ocean by promoting responsible management of the fisheries of the SIO and the conservation of deep-sea biodiversity.