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Scientists discover global pattern of big fish diversity in open oceans

ng been known for their rich diversity of fish and invertebrates, but examining the diversity of highly mobile fish in the open ocean has been elusive. Using the only global data set stretching back to the 1950's ?Japanese longline fisheries data ?and cross referencing these data with scientific observer data from the US and Australia, this study is the first to map communities of these open ocean travelers.

Pelagic longlines are the most widespread fishing gear in the open ocean ?baited lines up to 100 km in length that catch a wide range of predators. While they target tuna or billfish, they catch many other species too, including sharks, sea turtles and seabirds. To see whether findings based on the Japanese longline data could be applied to a wide range of species, the authors examined independent scientific observer data collected by U.S. and Australian government agencies between 1990-99, which recorded more than 140 species in these same areas. The results suggest that tuna and billfish are indicators of wider patterns of diversity.

The emerging global hotspots map is a product of oceanographic patterns, but also of history, showing the distribution of big fish though space and time. It reveals that some areas recognized today as good fishing are perhaps even more important than we realize ?which makes it all the more urgent to protect these last remaining bits, say the authors.

Today the east coast of the U.S., just south of Cape Hatteras and along the east coast of Florida, harbor some of the most important areas for big fish, as does the open ocean south of the Hawaiian Islands. The Southeast Pacific, particularly north of Easter Island; waters near Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean; and the ocean east of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia also contain some of the best areas left.

"In fact, much of the east coast of the U.S. is really a hotspot," says Myers. "And this extraordinary pattern of diversity right off Florida needs t
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Source:SeaWeb


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