Rare marine species discovered around Rockall could lead to a fishing ban in the area

The Guardian reports, 14th June 2013: “Fishing is expected to be banned near the Atlantic islet of Rockall after a rare methane gas vent in the seabed and two new shellfish species were discovered by British scientists.”

The methane, which leaks through a so-called “cold seep” vent in the ocean floor, was found last year by scientists working with the government agency Marine Scotland. It is the first of its kind to be found near UK waters and only the third in the north-east Atlantic. It was detected after Marine Scotland’s Scotia survey ship trawled up two new species of deep-water clam that have a “chemosynthetic” relationship with the methane: the clams’ food source is a bacteria that harvests the gas. That implies there may be a complex ecosystem around the mouth of the vent.

Francis Neat, the Marine Scotland scientist who oversaw the survey, said the site roughly four miles west of Rockall island was comparable to the complex habitats that build up around often exceptionally hot mineral-rich hydrothermal vents found on mid-ocean ridges. The clams were “packed full” of polychaete worms that are also expected to be new to science, he said.

The International Convention on the Exploration of the Seas, an intergovernmental agency which polices fish stocks in the North Atlantic, has now recommended a fishing ban for the site, which is international waters, to protect it from highly damaging bottom trawling.

Frilled shark head

A frilled shark head. The ancient ‘living fossil’ species of shark that dates back at least 90m years was caught during the survey around Rockall.
Photograph: Francis Neat

It has also requested additional fishing bans – adding to several already in place – at three other sites around Rockall to protect rare cold-water coral, sea sponge colonies, and sea fans or gorgoniansgorgonian Any of various corals of the order Gorgonacea, having a flexible, often branching skeleton of horny material. which are being harmed by bottom-trawling.

The agency’s surveys around Rockall also caught a frilled shark, an ancient “living fossil” species of shark that dates back at least 90m years and is rarely seen in northern waters. They found unusually large adult cod – known as “buffaloes” by fishermen, and large ling, saithe and haddock, suggesting Rockall’s waters were very rich in food.

Source: The Guardian, 14th June 2013

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