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Changed prevalence, not absence, explains toothfish status in McMurdo Sound

  • David G. Ainley (a1), Grant Ballard (a2), Joseph T. Eastman (a3), Clive W. Evans (a4), Nadav Nur (a2) and Claire L. Parkinson (a5)...

Abstract

We comment on the conjecture by Parker et al. (2016) that Antarctic toothfish recently returned to McMurdo Sound, arguing that this species never departed. Instead, as deduced from a 40-year fishing effort, toothfish water column prevalence became markedly reduced where bottom depths are <500 m, with research continuing to show their presence on the bottom or above the bottom where depths are deeper. We also counter arguments that toothfish departed, and remained absent, during and following a five-year presence of mega-icebergs residing near the opposite coast of Ross Island, the icebergs inhibiting or fomenting conditions that discouraged toothfish presence in the Sound. Available analyses reveal that toothfish movement into the Sound was probably not significantly affected, and additionally that neither changes in hydrography nor in primary productivity in the Sound would have been sufficient to impact toothfish presence through food web alteration. We hypothesize that the local effect of predation by seals and whales and the regional effect of a fishery targeting the largest toothfish (those neutrally buoyant and thus capable of occupying upper levels of the water column) has resulted in the remaining toothfish now being found predominantly closer to the bottom at greater depths.

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