Living resources of the Southern Ocean and associated island archipelagoes have been exploited commercially by humans since the 18th century. During the first century of exploitation, populations of fur seals were hunted to near extinction, followed in the 19th century by the exploitation of elephant seals, southern right whales and some penguins. During the 20th century, the hunting of marine mammals continued, with baleen whales, sperm whales, elephant seals, and ice seals taken. The latter part of the 20th century saw the start of targeted fishing for finfish, krill, crabs, and squid. These groups, particularly the finfish, are now the primary targeted resources in the Southern Ocean.
By far the most heavily fished species within the Antarctic convergence are Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides), Antarctic toothfish (D. mawsoni), both of which are commonly marketed as Chilean seabass; mackerel icefish (Champsocephalus gunnari); and Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). There are also a number of other species that are exploited on a much smaller exploratory scale, as well as several species taken as incidental bycatch.
Most of the regions to be studied during the ICEFISH cruise are in areas of the Southern Ocean that are either undergoing commercial exploitation, or are open to exploitation but have not yet been commercially fished. The information collected during ICEFISH will be tremendously valuable in furthering the understanding of species composition and distribution of commercially exploited finfish, as well as species that may be taken as incidental bycatch (both finfish and invertebrates). Critical shelf regions that may serve as important nursery, feeding, or spawning grounds, and habitats that may be of particular ecological importance will be identified. This information will be used to provide fishery scientists with tools to better manage fishing practices within the Southern Ocean.