It costs about the same as smoked salmon and is served up at the country’s smartest restaurants. But although Orange Roughy may seem a luxurious treat for the well-heeled, bringing it to the table comes at a terrible price.
It is fished by a system called bottom trawling. Suspended from tanker-sized boats, metal plates, nets and rollers crash along the ocean floor, smashing everything in their path.
The hauls bring up a small catch of deep-sea fish. But also tonnes of ancient coral.
The coral, and the thousands of marine organisms that feed on it, is simply thrown back into the ocean to die.
Living in the deepest of the deep sea, Orange Roughy often live to be 150 years old. By the time the grand old man of the sea reaches a British dinner table it may have outlasted 39 British Prime Ministers, 30 US presidents and 11 popes.
From their boat The Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace filmed a typical catch of Orange Roughy on board the Waipori, a New Zealand bottom-trawler.
“This fishing is the equivalent of bulldozing a shopping centre just for a bag of fish and chips,” says Mirella Von Lindenfels of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.
The DSCC wants Tony Blair to use the UK’s Presidency of the EU to call for a halt to the practice of bottom trawling.
Orange Roughy, which can live to 150 years, only reach reproductive age at 40, so stocks are slow to replenish. When a ban comes, it may be too late. The destructive nature of bottom trawling impacts on human health too. In the past decade, medicines that have been developed from deep-sea species include a cancer therapy and a painkiller.
Compounds found in sponges have been found to be potent anti-cancer agents, and may even help in the search to cure Alzheimer’s.
In the UK, grocery supermarket retailer Waitrose has joined a number of stores pledging to stop selling bottom-trawled fish. But, sadly, Britain is a booming market for these delicacies.
At Billingsgate fish market in East London, importer CT Holmes has just sold the last if its stock of Orange Roughy from New Zealand. When other outlets there get it fresh, it sells instantly. CT Holmes sells it on for