Acadian redfish, aka 'ocean perch' is the only fish in the rockfish / ocean perch family in the Atlantic, compared to the ~50+ Sebastes spp. in the Pacific. The fish is called redfish in New England and Canada, but is not to be confused with redfish from the Gulf of Mexico (which is a drum). Acadian redfish are harvested year-round, but are most prevalent during the spring and summer from the Gulf of Maine. Acadian redfish often weigh up to 5 lbs, but market size tends to be 1.5-3lbs at a length of 18-20 inches. Whole fish may have bulging eyes from being brought to the surface from depth, and it is not a sign of poor quality. Larger fish have a more coarse texture and deep-skinned ocean perch with the fat line removed has the most delicate flavor. The flesh is firm, white-fleshed (thought not as light as cod), and turns opaque white when cooked. The meat requires careful handling, because it tends to spoil more quickly than other fish. Redfish is growing in popularity because of its versatility, ability to be served whole, and it can be a substitute for haddock and other groundfish.
Acadian redfish grow slowly, up to 18-20 inches in length, and live to 50 years old or longer. They have a low reproductive rate and are late to mature, at five to six years old. Mating season for the Acadian redfish is from late autumn to early winter; however, eggs are not fertilized until the spring, where they are then incubated for 45-60 days.
Egg fertilization, incubation, and hatching occur within the female redfish’s body, which enables them to give birth to live young typically in July and August. 15000-20000 larvae are produced per spawning cycle, and have a relatively high survival rate compared to other egg-laying fish. The newborn redfish are able to swim and forage for plankton.
Juvenile redfish remain near the surface feeding on small crustaceans until they are two inches long, when they then move to the ocean bottom. Young redfish are black and green until they move deeper in the water column and turn red. Populations caught in deep water and brought to the surface are likely to exhibit barotrauma, which is injury caused by a change in air pressure, notable by an enlargement in the fish’s swim bladder and bulging eyes. Fish suffering from barotrauma can survive if released properly and quickly.
Adult redfish feed on larger invertebrates and small fish. Halibut, Atlantic cod, swordfish, and harbor seals prey upon Acadian redfish.
Acadian redfish are found in the US Atlantic Ocean from Long Island, New York northward to Labrador, Canada. The species’ range extends eastward to Iceland and Norway and to the southern waters of Greenland. Acadian redfish are common in deep waters off the Gulf of Maine and tend to inhabit waters between 100 m and 400 m deep in this area. They spend most of their lives close to the seabed and show a preference for rocky, structurally complex habitats, but can also be found near muddy and clay ocean bottoms. The species moves off the ocean bottom at night to feed and will move closer to shore in the winter.
Science & Management
Scientists, regulators, and industry members are conducting research that studies and determines strategies to efficiently harvest redfish stocks without collecting bycatch, called REDNET: A Network to Redevelop a Sustainable Redfish (Sebastes fasciatus) Trawl Fishery in the Gulf of Maine. The goals of the project are to seek and achieve three conservation and management goals:
Redirecting fishing efforts from overfished stocks to those that are considered rebuilt
Develop a directed fishery under the adaptive management ability of groundfish sectors in order to achieve optimum yield
Providing access to the Annual Catch Limits of a recovered species, generating revenue and increasing the economic viability of groundfish sectors
NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) manage the US Acadian redfish fishery under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan (FMP). Originally implemented in 1986 and amended several times since to respond to changes in groundfish stock and the fishery, the FMP covers 20 groundfish stocks and 13 different species in New England. In 2010, most of the New England groundfish fleet moved from a days-at-sea effort control program to a catch share system.
Measures to protect groundfish stocks established in the Northeast Multispecies FMP include:
Time and area closures to control fishing efforts and to protect spawning aggregations and habitat
Establishing an annual catch limit on all groundfish that can be caught as well as response measures if the catch limits are exceeded
Regulations to reduce bycatch and protect habitat
Minimum size catch limits to ensure that fish are able to spawn at least once before capture
Additionally fishers can participate in a catch share program for redfish and other groundfish species. The catch share program allows fishers to fish together in sectors and exempts these sectors from many gear and area restrictions. However, fishers must stop fishing once their sector catches their predetermined allotment of fish. The program enables fishers to control when, where, and how to fish as well as the ability to target stocks that are not overfished. Fishers who chose not to participate in the catch share must adhere to regulations limiting the number of days they can fish, the amount they can catch, and time and area closures.
Once classified as overfished, management efforts established by the NEFMC designed to reduce overfishing and rebuild the stock have been successful. Current estimates indicate that redfish abundance has been increasing in recent years and the stock achieved a “fully rebuilt” status in 2012. According to a 2015 stock assessment, Acadian redfish are not overfished nor subject to overfishing. Despite meeting rebuilding targets, fishers are generally catching less than half of the annual allocations for the species. Economic factors such as low consumer demand appear to the primary factor driving low utilization. Special programs allowing the use of smaller mesh are being implemented in New England with the goal of increasing quota utilization and creating incentives for fishers to target the species.
Acadian redfish are managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in Canada.
Acadian redfish, found in deep water near the ocean bottom of the Atlantic from Norway to Georges Bank, are most populous in the Gulf of Maine. They have some characteristics that make them moderately vulnerable to fishing pressure. In the 1980s, Acadian redfish were classified as overfished, but management measures over the course of 25 years led to the population being declared rebuilt in June 2012.
Habitat impacts ( Wild)
Acadian redfish are primarily harvested in the United States using otter trawls, which can cause damage to the seabed. These deep-water harvests could be having negative effects on sea corals. FishWatch noted in 2015 that research projects are under way to determine the impact. A Seafood Watch report from 2015 called habitat impacts for bottom trawl fisheries a high conservation concern, but said there is a lack of data on the areas where redfish live in the Gulf of Maine.
The type of bottom trawls used in the U.S. Acadian redfish fishery have been known to catch non-targeted fish species and occasionally ocean mammals. Bycatch studies on the meshes used to target Acadian redfish show that the primary unintentional catch tend to be juveniles, spiny dogfish, and pollock, a 2015 Seafood Watch report noted. Seafood Watch also called bycatch of vulnerable Atlantic halibut in the fishery a high concern.
In the United States, Acadian redfish are managed by NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council. Measures include permit requirements, time and area closures, catch limits, and minimum size limits. In 2010, the fishery went to a quota-based management system. A 2015 Seafood Watch report said this move may reduce incentives for illegal fishing and discards in the groundfish fishery, which includes Acadian redfish. Seafood Watch called overall management for this specific fishery moderately effective, namely due to ongoing concerns about managing habitat impacts.