New Zealand and China team up on Antarctic toothfish research

Published on
October 15, 2019

A cooperative project between New Zealand and a Chinese university to research Antarctic toothfish is coming to a conclusion, with the research team claiming major advances in the study of the species.

The project, involving National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and Shanghai Ocean University, saw researchers jointly conduct sailings in the Ross Sea south of New Zealand for this species (Dissostichus mawsoni). The species has long been seen as a premium export sought by fishing vessels from Asia, Russia, and New Zealand.

The New Zealand embassy in China trumpeted the cooperation on its Mandarin-language Weibo page, while Shanghai Ocean University posted photos of its researchers dissecting a toothfish on board the research vessel used by the combined team.

The Ross Sea Antarctic toothfish fishery is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and is also overseen by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) of which 25 nations are members, including China and New Zealand.

The Ross Sea has been the site of serious accidents involving trawlers – 22 lives were lost when a South Korean trawler sank in late 2011 after hitting an iceberg.

Toothfish is in demand in China, where “Arctic” has emerged as a favorite marketing word in the seafood sector, with consumers associating it with photos of wild fish in freezing cold, clean waters. Norway, in particular, has sought to drive sales of “Arctic cod.”

While the fishing season has traditionally finished at the end of February – after which sea ice has made passage impractical for trawlers – the impact of climate change is leading to increased interest in the fishery from fishing companies.

After some years of blocking it, in 2015, China gave its consent to the creation of a 1.12 million-square-kilometer “no-take zone” in the Ross Sea, with exceptions for the catch of krill and toothfish in designated research areas. The no-take zone came into effect in 2017.

Photo courtesy of Australian Fisheries Management Authority

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