Deep sea trawling leaves blobfish looking sadder than ever


The oceanic blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus ), a bottom-dweller found only off the south-east coast of Australia, is heading toward extinction due to deep sea trawling according to recent reports.

While not deliberately targeted by fishermen, the blobfish shares the same habitat as several crustacea that are harvested as seafood, thus leaving it vulnerable as by-catch.

Despite efforts to protect areas of deep sea off the Australian coast from the effects of trawling, these do little to help the blobfish as they "only really to protect corals, not blobfish" according to scientist Professor Callum Roberts.

Ironically, the biology of the blobfish that allows it to live at depths of around 800m may have a role in the species' demise. In place of a bony skeleton or extensive muscle, the blobfish is simply a gelatinous mass. Their lack of muscle tissue leads them to a sedentary, if not often stationary, lifestyle and removes almost all means to rapidly escape predators – in particular humans. 

Its  very small habitat range adds to the pressure on blobfish populations: once existing populations are extinct, there may no more that could migrate into the same region. As Professor Roberts puts it "Australia and New Zealand are not a good place for the blobfish to be".

Although not the most charismatic of faces to grace a conservation campaign the plight of the blobfish is helping to highlight the wider issues of the large amount of damage caused by deep sea trawling.

"Despite efforts from conservationists to achieve a global moratorium on restricting bottom trawling on the High Seas, Iceland rejected it, so the United Nations was charged with protecting deep seas species", says Professor Roberts. Whether such protection is adequate remains to be seen – hopefully not before it is too late for species such as the blobfish.