Golden tilefish is low in fat and has a delicate, sweet flavor similar to lobster or crab. Tilefish is primarily almost always sold fresh, usually whole, though it is also sold fresh in fillets and steaks, and when sold frozen, it is skin-on, bone-in fillets, and steaks. Tilefish is graded and priced by size, with larger fish being more expensive.Although smaller tilefish are more affordable than larger ones, buyers caution that they also have softer flesh and shorter shelf-life. Tilefish yields thick fillets with a row of pinbones and raw tilefish flesh is light and pinkish but turns flaky and white when cooked.
Based on average U.S. landings* of golden tilefish 2012-2015 and using 2014 Seafood Watch ratings, the sustainability breakdown of golden tilefish is as follows:
~80% of U.S. golden tilefish landings meet a Seafood Watch "Best Choice (green)" rating (~65% from New York and ~25% from Florida)
~15% of U.S. golden tilefish landings meet a Seafood Watch "Good Alternative (yellow)" rating (~60% from Florida and ~40% from Texas) ~5% of U.S. golden tilefish landings are unknown/unrated Golden tilefish landings by U.S. state include: New York (~55%), Florida (~30%), New Jersey (~10%), and Texas (~5%) U.S. landings of golden tilefish have decreased ~25% from 2012 to 2015
*Landings for New York (most) and Texas (all) were not coded or combined for gear types, but considered a longline gear-type
Golden tilefish are colorful, with a blue-green back and spots of yellow and gold and multi-colored fins. Their underbelly is white, and their head is a rosy-pink with blue around the eyes. These colors have given them the nickname “the clown of the sea.” Golden tilefish are distinguishable from other tilefish by the large crest on their head. Males have a larger crest than females. They are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning they begin life as females and transition into males later in life.
These tilefish grow slowly, up to four feet in length (one meter) although most are harvested at two feet in length (0.6 meters). Females live up to 46 years old and males up to 39 years old. Recent radiometric dating techniques suggest that golden tilefish may live as long as 50 years. They reach maturity between two and four years old when they are about 13 inches (33 centimeters) in length and weigh three pounds.
Spawning season for golden tilefish peaks in June in the Mid-Atlantic, and April to June in the South Atlantic. Females release two to eight million eggs.
Golden tilefish feed during the day near the ocean floor, eating shrimp, crabs, clams, snails, worms, anemones, and sea cucumbers. Monkfish, spiny dogfish, conger eels, and large bottom-dwelling sharks prey upon golden tilefish.
Golden tilefish are found along Atlantic North America from Nova Scotia, Canada to Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico. They are also found in the northern coast of South America. Golden tilefish are a deepwater species and inhabit depths from 250 to 1500 feet (76 to 457 meters) deep and temperatures from 49 to 58° Fahrenheit (9.4 to 14.4° Celsius). They are often found in or around submarine canyons and steep slopes made up of mud, clay, sand, and other substrate in which they burrow into. They often form vertical burrows in these regions that will in turn provide habitat for other species of fish and crustaceans. Golden tilefish are also known to form horizontal burrows or “pueblos” into the sides of marine canyons. While individuals are often found near canyons, small concentrations of golden tilefish are known to occur.
Science & Management
A 2009 study shows a significant decrease in size and age at maturation in golden tilefish compared to a previous study done in the early 1980s. In fisheries, hook sizes have been intentionally increased to try to avoid catching smaller fish; however, the change in population size over time may suggest a density-dependent effect. More research is needed to determine whether this is a result of species changing their characteristics in response to environmental changes, or if it is a result of natural selection towards smaller size and younger age (natural selection usually favors individuals that can reproduce at smaller sizes and younger ages in environments where survival rates are low).
Based on the NOAA’s 2014 stock assessment, research recommendations include:
Understanding conflicts with lobster and trawl fishing gear, and possible competition/interference from dogfish populations and bait type
Conducting a hook selectivity study to determine catch rates by hook size
Understanding the role of tilefish in creating secondary habitats through their burrowing activity and the resulting increase in biodiversity, and the effects fisheries have on the ecosystem
Assessing the coherence between north and south Atlantic stocks, and the effects of climate indices in driving stock dynamics
Assessing the extent of population outside of normal fishing areas
NOAA Fisheries and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council manage the golden tilefish fishery from the northern extent of their US Atlantic range to North Carolina under the Mid-Atlantic/Southern New England Tilefish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The largest golden tilefish stock occurs in the Mid-Atlantic (followed by the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico respectively) and as such, the majority of the US catch occurs in this region. Implemented in 2001, the FMP and its subsequent amendments establish:
Annual catch limits and a per trip possession limit
An annual limit on incidental tilefish catch (once the annual catch limit is reached the incidental fishery closes)
Permit requirements for commercial fishers
An individual fishing quota program where fishers are allocated a percentage of the annual catch in which they can choose when to fish their allocation during the year
Gear restrictions limiting the use of trawls and other bottom gears in areas to reduce impact on tilefish habitat
According to a 2014 stock assessment the Mid-Atlantic golden tilefish population is above target population and the stock, which was once declared overfished in 1998, is rebuilt. Management measure in place by the FMP are considered highly effective and according to the latest stock assessment golden tilefish in the Mid-Atlantic region are not overfished nor experiencing overfishing.
NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council manage the golden tilefish fishery from North Carolina to the southern extent of their US Atlantic range under the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The 1983 FMP and its subsequent amendments are responsible for the management of the multispecies grouper snapper complex covering over 50 different South Atlantic species. Among measures the plan addresses are:
A “2 for 1” permit program where fishers participating in the fishery must purchase two transferrable vessel permits for each newly issued permit – eliminating one permit each time a new fisher enters the fishery
An endorsement program to limit participation in the bottom longline golden tilefish fishery (those commercial fishers without an endorsement are limited to 500 lbs. of tilefish (gutted) per trip)
Annual catch limits by gear type (75 percent of golden tilefish catch is allocated to the bottom longline fishery; 25 percent to the hook and line fishery) as well as per trip possession limits
Prohibiting the use of bottom longline gear in certain areas to protect other species in the fishery
Establishing deepwater marine protected areas
While current fishing rates for golden tilefish in the South Atlantic are considered to be too high, a 2011 stock assessment concluded the stock is above target populations and is not overfished.
NOAA Fisheries and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council manage the golden tilefish fishery in the US Gulf of Mexico under the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The 1984 FMP and its amendments establish: annual catch limits, an individual fishing quota (IFQ) program (implemented in 2010), and longline gear restrictions – limiting the areas and depths longline gear can be deployed.
Golden tilefish account for 80 percent of the total tilefish landings in the US Gulf of Mexico. The fishery is considered well managed and a 2011 stock assessment indicated that the stock is above target populations and is not overfished.
Tilefish (aka "Clown of the Sea") are a long-lived and slow growing deep-water fish. Golden tilefish tend to be larger and live longer than other tilefish. Factors that include a narrow geographical range and susceptibility to physical changes in the environment make golden tilefish vulnerable to fishing pressure.
Golden tilefish are found primarily in the Mid-Atlantic as well as in the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. The South Atlantic stocks are above target population levels, and the stock in the Gulf of Mexico is considered stable. In 1998, Mid-Atlantic golden tilefish were declared overfished but have since shown signs of recovery. A 2011 assessment indicated that the Mid-Atlantic population was 4% above the target, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported scientific concern about uncertainty with the assessment model.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Small longline fisheries in Mid-Atlantic and Southern New England mainly catch golden tilefish, although some are also caught using otter trawls. Bottom longlines can do moderate damage to the seafloor when they come in contact with it, but that gear tends to be restricted to deeper waters in South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Several silty, clay habitats where golden tilefish are typically found have become protected from fishing.
Since golden tilefish tend to be targeted selectively by longline fishermen, there is low bycatch as a result. Bycatch can include deep-water snapper and grouper. Although golden tilefish can become bycatch in the Mid-Atlantic trawl fishery, those numbers are thought to be low.
NOAA Fisheries is responsible for managing golden tilefish in the Mid-Atlantic, the South Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing management plans in these areas include annual catch limits, individual quotas, required permits, landing report requirements, restrictions on gear and depth, as well as protected areas. Despite strong management measures, sustainability goals have yet to be fully met.