Mahi-mahi

Mahi-mahi
Common Name Mahi-mahi
Market Name dorado, dolphinfish
Scientific name Coryphaena hippurus

Sourcing Summary

Size

8-25 lbs.

Fresh and frozen mahi-mahi is available year-round, although prices fluctuate dramatically. Fresh mahi-mahi is sold as skin-on fillets as well as H&G, while frozen fish is available as skin-on or skinless boneless fillets. The fish is low in saturated fat and a good source of vitamins B12 and B6, phosphorus, potassium, niacin, and selenium. When buying fresh mahi, for maximum shelf life, buying H&G mahi-mahi is the best product form. Look for bright skin colors and firm, pinkish meat to identify the highest quality of skin-on mahi fillets. Mahi-mahi has a mild sweet taste, making it popular in American restaurants. It is most abundant in January and February when the catches off Ecuador and Peru are at their peak. 

Key sustainability sourcing notes for mahi-mahi (FDA name: dolphinfish) based on combining landings data from 2012-2016 and the most recent 2013 & 2016 Seafood Watch assessments:

  • ~80% of  global landings come from 5 countries (Peru ~50%, Ecuador, Indonesia, and Taiwan all ~10% each)
  • The U.S. only lands ~1% of global mahi-mahi landings, and only about 5% of U.S. landings serve the domestic market (~60% of U.S. landings are from Hawaii)
  • The leading import countries for mahi-mahi into the U.S. are Ecuador, Peru, and Taiwan (~20-25% each)
  • ~10% of U.S. mahi-mahi landings meet the "Best Choice (green)" rating (handline, troll, and pole-caught excluding Hawaii. and ~70% from Florida)
  • ~85% of U.S. mahi-mahi landings (Hawaii and U.S. longline-caught) and ~20% of global landings (Ecuador longline-caught) meeting the "Good Alternative (yellow)" rating  
  • ~70% of global mahi-mahi landings meet the "Avoid (red)" rating (primarily longline-caught) 
  • ~60% of global mahi-mahi landings are in a fishery improvement project (FIP) (Peru and Ecuador)
  • ~5% of U.S. mahi-mahi landings and ~20% of global mahi-mahi landings are unrated/unknown (~80% of U.S. unknown landings come from South Carolina)

Product Forms

Fresh/Frozen
Fresh
Product Forms
Fillet
H&G
Whole
Fresh/Frozen
Frozen
Product Forms
Fillet

Fresh Seasonal Availability

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
yesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes

Culinary Composition

Sweet

Flavor

Firm

Texture

Cooking Methods

Health/Nutrition

Nutrition facts

Serving Size: 100g
Amount per serving
Calories 85
Total Fat 0.7g
Cholesterol 73mg
Sodium 88mg
Carbohydrates 0g
Protein 18.5g

Biology

Mahi-mahi live up to seven years and grow extremely fast, reaching up to seven feet (210 cm) in length and can weigh over 80 pounds. Most that are caught are about three feet (one meter) in length and weigh an average of 33 pounds. They typically live up to five years old. Mahi-mahi that school together often do not weigh more than 20 pounds. Larger individuals live alone or in pairs. They reach maturity in four to five months in the wild, and three months in captivity. They are considered dimorphic, meaning males and females differ in appearance. Males develop a large bony crest on their forehead, which is square. Females have a rounded head that does not develop a bony crest, and are smaller than males.

Spawning occurs year-round, peaking from April to July. In the Atlantic, they spawn under floating patches of brown algae called sargassum. Depending on their size, females release between 40,000 and one million eggs at each spawning event, which occurs every two to three days during peak season. Eggs and larvae are pelagic. Juveniles are recognizable due to alternating dark and light stripes along their body, which fade as they grow. Their brilliant blue-green and yellow colors fade to silver soon after they die.

Larval and juvenile mahi-mahi feed primarily on crustaceans. Adults eat a variety of prey but prefer a diet of invertebrates and fish. They rely heavily on sight to hunt, and therefore do so during the day in pairs or schools. Seabirds and fish, such as tunas, marlins, sharks, and swordfish, prey on mahi-mahi.  

Species Habitat

Mahi-mahi are widely distributed and can be found in tropical and subtropical waters throughout the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans as well as the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. In the eastern Atlantic, mahi-mahi occur from the Bay of Biscay to as far south as South Africa. Along the US Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico they occur from Massachusetts to Texas. In the eastern Pacific Ocean they can be found from Oregon and California south to Hawaii, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru. In the western Pacific, they have been reported in the Philippines, Sea of Japan, Taiwan, and the Sea of Okhotsk. Mahi-mahi are a highly migratory species and are generally found near the surface at depths between 0 and 277 feet (0-85 meters) in offshore waters. Juveniles will form schools while older fish tend to be solitary. Females and small males can be found near natural and artificial floating objects including algae called sargassum. Larger males prefer open ocean habitat. They are most common in waters between 70 and 86°F (21 and 30°C).

Science & Management

Wild
Science

The Dolphin and Wahoo Fishery Management Plan identifies several knowledge deficits regarding the biology and stock status of mahi-mahi and wahoo in the Atlantic EEZ and makes the following recommendations for future research: 

  • Collect data to improve estimates of life history characteristics like growth and fecundity
  • Identify essential habitat
  • Implement observer programs and studies of post-release mortality to examine the efficacy of minimum size requirements


As of yet it is unclear whether any there are any research programs underway to address these deficits.

2016 trials done by RECOVER (Relationships of Effects of Cardiac Outcomes in fish for Validation of Ecological Risk) at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science expand upon existing research studying the effects of oil on fish, and their ability to recover after exposure. The team is currently evaluating the effects of oil exposure, like that from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, on the genetic responses of mahi-mahi embryos and larvae. They found that heart development and functioning as well as sensory functions of the nervous system such as eyes, and neurological functions were impaired after exposure to oil at an early age. Sensory function is important for prey detection and predator avoidance.

Fishermen are working together with scientists from the Dolphinfish Research Program and Cooperative Science Services to study the migration patterns of mahi-mahi by tagging and releasing their catch. The results from 2002-2012 show that mahi-mahi migrate around the Atlantic Ocean. This information is important to track where mahi-mahi may be caught along their migration route, and suggests future international conservation efforts.

Management

NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council – in cooperation with the Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils – manage the US Atlantic mahi-mahi fishery under the Dolphin and Wahoo Fishery Management Plan (FMP). Effective as of 2004, the FMP and its amendments provide a precautionary and risk-averse approach to management by ensuring no new fisheries develop for mahi-mahi and wahoo. The intended effects of the FMP are to conserve and manage US Atlantic stocks of mahi-mahi and wahoo by setting harvest restrictions for both the commercial and recreational sectors (with the recreational sector receiving a significant majority of catch allocation). Among measures the plan establishes are:

  • A permit system for commercial and charter vessels as well as dealers
  • Longline restrictions to comply with sea turtle and highly migratory species protection measures
  • Additional gear restrictions
  • A 1.5 million pound (or 13 percent of the total harvest) cap on commercial landings
  • Recreational bag limits (10 mahi-mahi per person per day with a limit of 60 mahi-mahi per boat per day (headboats are excluded from this boat limit))
  • Prohibiting the sale of recreational catches (unless the seller holds commercial permits)
  • Designating areas as Essential Fish Habitat and Habitat Areas of Particular Concern
  • A 20-inch fork length minimum size limit for mahi-mahi caught off the coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida (there are no size restrictions elsewhere)


Scientists do not formally assess the US Atlantic mahi-mahi population; however, they did conduct an exploratory assessment of mahi-mahi in 2000 and determined that the stock was not overfished. Given their life history (highly productive, widely distributed) it is believed they are abundant and relatively resistant to high fishing rates. Atlantic mahi-mahi are not subject to overfishing.

NOAA Fisheries and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the Pacific mahi-mahi fishery in the western Pacific under the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Pacific Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific Region (FEP). The majority of the US mahi-mahi harvest occurs in the Pacific, mainly Hawaii, and is covered under the 2009 FEP. The FEP and its amendments do not establish specific management measures for mahi-mahi as current trends indicate that regulations are not necessary. Instead, the FEP establishes measures that apply to all troll and longline fisheries operating in the region. Among these measures are:

  • A permitting and logbook system
  • Area closures where longlining is prohibited to protect endangered Hawaiian monk seals, reduce gear conflicts, and avoid local stock depletions
  • Additional time-area closures
  • A vessel monitoring system for longline vessel to track vessel movements and enforce regulations
  • Carrying an onboard observer (when requested by NOAA) for longline vessels
  • Requirements for longline vessels owners to attend annual protected species workshops


NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Coast Fishery Management Council manage the mahi-mahi fishery off the US West Coast under the FMP for US West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species. The FMP intends to ensure conservation as well as the promotion of the optimum yield of highly migratory species both within and outside the US Exclusive Economic Zone. The FMP establishes a permitting system and sets gear restrictions and operational requirements for commercial fishermen operating in the fishery.

Scientists do not formally assess the US Pacific mahi-mahi population; however, the population is assumed to be stable given their life history (highly productive, widely distributed). Even though they are resistant to high fishing rates, precautionary management measures are in place to maintain current mahi-mahi harvest levels. As of 2016, Pacific mahi-mahi’s overfishing status is unknown. 

Conservation Criteria - Wild

Impact on Stock

Mahi-mahi, aka "dolphinfish," are found worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters. They are prolific spawners and have extremely rapid growth, which helps them remain moderately resilient to fishing pressure. The stock status of mahi-mahi in the Atlantic Ocean is stable although a full assessment had not been conducted, according to a 2016 Seafood Watch report. Mahi-mahi are also assumed to be stable in the U.S. Pacific. Population data for the Western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico are outdated. Stock status is also lacking for mahi-mahi caught in the Indian Ocean and throughout the Pacific Ocean. 

Habitat impacts ( Wild)

Hook and line gear is mainly used to target mahi-mahi in the U.S. Atlantic, which has minimal contact with the ocean floor. In the U.S. Pacific, mahi-mahi are primarily caught using troll and handlines that do not adversely affect the seafloor substrate, according to Seafood Watch. The surface-set pelagic longline and purse seine gear used to target the fish around the world also has a minimal impact on the ocean habitat. Free-floating algae in the Atlantic called sargassum is an essential mahi-mahi habitat that became protected by fishery managers in 2003. 

Bycatch

Bycatch is a major issue with mahi-mahi. The pelagic longline fisheries targeting the fish throughout the world are known to incidentally catch sharks, sea birds, and sea turtles. Some bycatch mitigation measures have been applied to fisheries in the United States, Canada, and Ecuador. Longline mahi-mahi fisheries in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Peru, Indonesia, Panama, and Taiwan catch sensitive species, but lack measures to address bycatch, prompting Seafood Watch to give them red ratings for that criterion. In the South Atlantic, longlines are known to interact with white-chinned petrel, leatherback turtles, loggerhead turtles, yellow-nosed albatross, and wandering albatross, which all have critical fishing mortality. A 2016 Seafood Watch report pointed to concern over bycatch that included sea turtles, silky and oceanic white tip sharks in the Atlantic Ocean floating object purse seine fisheries targeting mahi-mahi. Handline and troll gear is more selective and allows fishermen to release incidental catches quickly.

Management effectiveness

Mahi-mahi fishery management varies widely by country and region. The U.S. Atlantic mahi-mahi stock is managed by NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in cooperation with the Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils. Measures include permit requirements, and size limits set on the fish in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

On the U.S. West Coast, mahi-mahi are managed by NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council under a fishery management plan for highly migratory species. Although there are no measures specific to mahi-mahi, fishermen in the longline fishery there must have permits, log books, carry a vessel monitoring system, and allow onboard observers from NOAA. Owners and operators are required to attend annual workshops about protected species. Seafood Watch called mahi-mahi management in the United States moderately effective overall.

In Canada, the stocks are managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. A 2016 Seafood Watch report called Canadian management for bycatch species insufficient compared to the United States. Although the mahi-mahi longline fishery in Ecuador has infrequent bycatch, Seafood Watch gave the country a good alternative rating for having a management framework in place to address the impact on mahi-mahi stocks and species of concern.

Other mahi-mahi fisheries lack effective management. Panama has some bycatch measures in place, such as voluntary circle hooks and a national plan for shark preservation, but Seafood Watch called them inefficient to protect vulnerable species. In addition, as of 2016, there were no harvest control rules. Indonesia lacks bycatch management measures for mahi-mahi, and Seafood Watch expressed concern over compliance with other management measures in place there. In Taiwan, although mahi-mahi is managed by the Fisheries Authority of the Council of Agriculture, there are currently no measures. Costa Rica, Guatemala and Peru are engaged in a fishery improvement project, but lack fishery management plans for mahi-mahi.

Conservation Criteria - Farmed

Origin Method Ratings
All Other Origins All Other Fishing Methods  
Atlantic Ocean - North Longline  
Atlantic Ocean - North Purse Seine - Floating Object  
Atlantic Ocean - South Longline  
Atlantic Ocean - South Purse Seine - Floating Object  
Costa Rica Longline  
Ecuador Longline  
Guatemala Longline  
Indonesia Longline  
Outside USA Handline  
Outside USA Troll/Pole  
Pacific Ocean - East Purse Seine - Unassociated  
Pacific Ocean - East Longline  
Pacific Ocean - East Purse Seine - Floating Object  
Pacific Ocean - North Longline  
Pacific Ocean - South Longline  
Panama Longline  
Peru Longline  
Taiwan Longline  
USA - Atlantic Longline    
USA - Atlantic Handline    
USA - Atlantic Troll/Pole    
USA - Gulf of Mexico Longline  
USA - Hawaii Troll/Pole  
USA - Hawaii Shallow-Set Longline  
USA - Hawaii Deep-Set Longline  
Name Country State / Province
Albion Farms & Fisheries Canada British Columbia
Alcatraz Bay Seafoods United States California
Anderson Seafoods Inc. United States California
Blue Ribbon Meats United States Ohio
Brutus Seafood United States Florida
Cape Canaveral Shrimp Co. United States Florida
Catalina Offshore Products United States California
Catanese Classic Seafood United States Ohio
Channel Seafoods International United States Florida
Cherry Point Seafoods United States South Carolina
City Fish Canada Alberta
Codfathers Seafood Market Canada British Columbia
Crystal Oceans United States Florida
Daily Seafood Inc. Canada Ontario
Dock-to-Dish United States New York
Dole & Bailey Inc. United States Massachusetts
Empire Fish Company United States Wisconsin
Euclid Fish Company United States Ohio
Fresh Island Fish, Inc. United States Hawaii
Garden & Valley Isle Seafood, Inc. United States Hawaii
Global Food Networking Inc. United States Virginia
Harbor Pride Seafood United States California
Hilo Fish Company, Inc. United States Hawaii
Hudson Valley Seafood United States New York
IncredibleFish, Inc. United States Florida
L&L International Inc. United States California
Lee Fish USA United States California
Lotus Seafood Inc. United States California
Marx Foods United States Washington
Meliomar, Inc. Philippines
Netuno USA United States Florida
Northeast Seafood Products, Inc. United States Colorado
Ocean Beauty Seafoods LLC United States Washington
Orca Bay Seafoods, Inc. United States Washington
Pacific Harvest Seafoods United States California
Pisces Impex Ltd. Canada Ontario
Precious Cargo Seafood Company United States Oregon
Santa Monica Seafood, Inc. United States California
Sarasota Seafood Company United States Florida
Sea Delight, LLC. United States Florida
Sea to Table, USA United States New York
Seafood Merchants Ltd. United States Illinois
Stavis Seafoods United States Massachusetts
Thalassa Seafoods Belgium
The Fishin' Company United States Pennsylvania
The Lone Star Fishing Company United States Texas
Tradex Foods Inc. Canada British Columbia
Triar Seafood Company United States Florida
Wild Fish Direct LLC United States Florida
Yonges Island Fish Company United States South Carolina