Lantern fish (myctophid) research

Protein production, including that realized from fishing, is one of the major factors limiting the growth of the South African economy. Conventional fish stocks are either fully- or over-exploited and there is an urgent need to investigate alternate resources.

Lantern fishes (family Myctophidae) represent one such alternative. They are the most speciose (65%) and largest component (600-million metric tonnes) of the World’s mesopelagic fish biomass. One species (Benthosema pterotum), known in the Indian Ocean from the Gulf of Oman to about 25°S off the Mozambique coast, probably represents the largest single-species fish biomass in the World. In the eastern South Atlantic, lantern fish biomass has been estimated at 18-million tonnes. Here, a sporadic purse-seine fishery has been developed on a shelf-living species (Lampanyctodes hectoris). It has accounted for up to 10% (42 000 metric tonnes) of the total South African pelagic fish catch. Preliminary investigations suggest that catch rates may be higher for shelf-edge species. However, in South Africa (as elsewhere) there is a paucity of knowledge of lantern fishes. The research objective is therefore to provide information for both pure science and for fishery management. Furthermore, our understanding of deep-sea ecological processes will be increased.

At present, research is focused on the systematics, distribution and ecology of lantern fishes. Since there are no endemic South African species, this research is undertaken within a global context. At present, work on lantern fishes from the following areas is being undertaken:

  • southern African region
  • Southern Ocean
  • western Central Pacific (with Dr John Paxton, Australian Museum, Sydney)
  • equatorial and tropical Central Pacific (with Prof. Guy Duhamel, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris)
  • eastern Tropical Atlantic

A major project to develop a World Catalogue of Lantern Fishes for Fishery Purposes for the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is also underway.

Contact details

Dr P.A. (Butch) Hulley

Honorary Associate  Marine Biology Fish Collections

Natural History Department
Iziko South African Museum
Box 61, Cape Town 8000
South Africa

Fax: +27 (0)21 481 3993