Sablefish

Sablefish
Common Name Sablefish
Market Name black cod, butterfish, gindara
Scientific name Anaplopoma fimbria

Sourcing Summary

Size

6-10 lbs.

Buyers pay a premium for sablefish from Alaska because these fish are larger (5-7 lbs.) and thus considered to have a higher oil content than smaller sablefish from the U.S. West Coast (2-3 lbs.). Some longliners typically bleed and freeze their fish at-sea, resulting in a high-quality product at a higher price. Canadian trap-caught sablefish tends to be larger and is considered very high quality. Trawl-caught sablefish is rarely bled and prone to bruising, resulting in lower quality and price.

Key sustainability sourcing notes for sablefish based on combining landings data from 2012-2015 and the most recent 2014 (U.S.) and 2016 (B.C.) Seafood Watch assessments and MSC certifications (2014 - U.S. West Coast and 2016 - Alaska):

  • ~70% of North American sablefish landings are MSC-certified (~90% of Alaskan landings and ~40% of U.S. West Coast landings)
  • ~70% of North American sablefish landings meet a Seafood Watch "Best Choice (green)" rating (~95% of Alaskan landings and ~35% of U.S. West Coast landings)
  • ~30% of North American sablefish landings meet a Seafood Watch "Good Alternative (yellow)" rating (~100% of British Columbia landings and ~65% of U.S. West Coast landings)
  • Total North American sablefish landings from 2012 to 2015 have decreased ~ 25%

Product Forms

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

Fresh Seasonal Availability

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
nonoyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesno

Culinary Composition

Strong

Flavor

Medium

Texture

Cooking Methods

Health/Nutrition

Nutrition facts

Serving Size: 100g
Amount per serving
Calories 195
Total Fat 15.3g
Cholesterol 49mg
Sodium 56mg
Carbohydrates 0g
Protein 13g
Omega-3 1.6g

Biology

Sablefish grow quickly, up to 3 feet in length. Females are able to reproduce when they are about 6-1/2 years old and over 2 feet in length; males are able to reproduce a little earlier, at age 5 and 1.9 feet. Sablefish spawn in deeper water along the continental slope from March through April in Alaska, and from January through March between California and British Columbia. Their eggs develop in deep water for about 2 weeks until they hatch. The hatched larvae swim to the surface after they begin feeding. In southeast Alaska and British Columbia, juveniles appear in nearshore waters by fall. Sablefish are highly mobile for part of their life; in fact, some juveniles have been found to migrate over 2,000 miles in 6 or 7 years. Sablefish can live to be over 90 years old.

Small sablefish feed on zooplankton (tiny floating animals) in their first weeks of life. As they grow older, sablefish feed on whatever prey is available, from bottom invertebrates to other fish, squid, and jellyfish. Other fish, seabirds, sharks, and whales feed on sablefish.

Species Habitat

Sablefish are found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean from northern Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska, westward to the Aleutian Islands and into the Bering Sea. There are two populations of sablefish in the Pacific Ocean. They’ve been identified based on differences in growth rate, size when they are able to reproduce, and tagging studies. A northern population inhabits Alaska and northern British Columbia waters, and a southern population inhabits waters off southern British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. The two populations mix off southwest Vancouver Island and northwest Washington.

Sablefish are most common in Alaska waters. Adult sablefish live on mud bottoms in waters 650+ feet deep. Some have been found as deep as 9,800 feet. Juvenile sablefish live near the surface in nearshore waters.

Science & Management

Wild
Science

NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center assesses the abundance of sablefish through annual longline surveys. Scientists also conduct trawl surveys to assess abundance every 2 or 3 years. Scientists at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center conduct bottom trawl surveys to assess the abundance of sablefish and other groundfish off the West Coast. Fishery data is collected by fishery observers and through required and voluntary logbook programs.

The Alaska sablefish population is at 9 percent above its target level. The west coast sablefish population is at 84 percent of its target level.

NOAA Fisheries has been tagging and releasing sablefish in Alaska waters since 1972. Scientists use data from this program to study sablefish movements. The results show that sablefish are highly migratory for at least part of their lives, and their movement rates are great enough to affect the amount of fish available for harvest in an area. Although the results of the longline survey are the main data used to determine sablefish quotas, tag data provide complementary information that enhances survey data.

Management

NOAA Fisheries, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Alaska fisheries) and Pacific Fishery Management Council (west coast fisheries) manage the various sablefish fisheries.

Current management in Alaska is covered under the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Groundfish Fishery Management Plans:

  • Fishing season from approximately March 1 to November 15.
  • Annual quota divided among fishing gear types (fixed gear (longlines and pots) harvests around 85 percent of the sablefish quota and trawl gear about 15 percent).
  • Individual fishing quota program for the majority of fixed gear – individuals are allotted a specific share of the total catch to harvest throughout the fishing season.


The State of Alaska manages fisheries for sablefish in state waters under a shared quota system – all permit holders receive an equal share of the annually determined catch quota.

Current management on the West Coast is covered under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:

  • Coast-wide catch limits, allocated among the different fishing groups and gear types (trawl and fixed, each accounting for about half of the sablefish catch off the West Coast).
  • Daily trip limits (a limit placed on the amount that can be caught on a daily trip out to sea) for some vessels.
  • Individual fishing quota for the trawl fishery and some of the fixed gear fishery – individuals are allotted a specific share of the total catch to harvest throughout the fishing season.
  • Full observer coverage in the trawl fishery, partial coverage in the fixed gear fishery.


Outside of U.S. waters, sablefish are caught along the British Columbia coast, from the Vancouver area north to the Alaska border. This fishery is managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada disclaimer.

Conservation Criteria - Wild

Impact on Stock

Sablefish, found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean are a very long-lived species, which, along with other factors, makes them inherently vulnerable to fishing pressure. The most recent stock assessments for the U.S. West Coast and Alaskan sablefish populations showed that it is not overfished or experiencing overfishing, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Fisheries and Oceans Canada reported that sablefish stock indices have shown a general decline between 2003 and 2012. A Seafood Watch report from 2014 also noted a downward trend in the West Coast sablefish population over the past 40 years and gave it a moderate stock status concern rating.

Habitat impacts ( Wild)

Most of the sablefish harvest in Alaska is done using longlines, a method considered to cause minimal impact. Pots are increasingly used to catch sablefish in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, but there are still so few that there’s little information on the impact, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. 

Trawls are among the gear used to catch sablefish along the U.S. West Coast, which can cause damage to sensitive seafloor habitats, although they are prohibited in certain areas. Handlines and traps are also used.

Bycatch

Bycatch in the sablefish fishery is considered moderate and includes giant grenadier and arrowtooth flounder as well as species of rockfishes that are currently overfished, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Bycatch of seabirds, including endangered birds, has dropped significantly due to improved management measures such as streamer lines to keep birds away from baited hooks. Seafood Watch noted in 2014 reports that there are few true “bycatch” species caught in substantial amounts across all groundfish fisheries.

Management effectiveness

Sablefish was previously overexploited, but is now considered to be effectively managed. The Alaska sablefish fishery is managed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which uses individual fishing quotas to ensure the fishery remains sustainable. 

On the West Coast, sablefish are managed with the groundfish fishery. Management measures include area closures and an individual fishery quota system. Seafood Watch reports from 2014 called the West Coast groundfish fishery management strong because it includes updated stock assessments, biomass reference points, harvest control rules, and incorporation of uncertainty when determining catch limits. 

In Canada, the sablefish fishery is managed by the Canadian Sablefish Association and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Measures include stock assessments, limited entry, gear restrictions, area closures, size limits, and a total allowable catch established through the Commercial Groundfish Integration Program.

Conservation Criteria - Farmed

Origin Method Ratings
All Other Origins All Other Fishing Methods  
Canada - British Columbia Bottom Longline  
Canada - British Columbia Bottom Trawl  
USA - Alaska Bottom Trawl    
USA - Alaska Longline    
USA - Alaska Pot    
USA - California California Groundfish Collective    
USA - West Coast Bottom Longline - IFQ    
USA - West Coast Bottom Longline    
USA - West Coast Bottom Trawl    
USA - West Coast Pot    
USA - West Coast Handline    
Worldwide All Farming Methods  
Name Country State / Province
7 Seas Fish Co., Ltd. Canada British Columbia
A-1 Alaska Halibut / Kachemak Bay Seafoods United States Alaska
Akulurak, LLC. United States Washington
Alaska Glacier Seafoods, Inc. United States Alaska
Alaskan Leader Seafoods, LLC. United States Washington
Alaskans Own Seafood United States Alaska
Albion Farms & Fisheries Canada British Columbia
Allseas Fisheries Corp. Canada Ontario
American Fish & Seafood Company United States California
Aqualine Seafoods Ltd. Canada British Columbia
B&C Food Distributors Canada British Columbia
Bettencourt Fisheries United States California
Blue North Inc. United States Washington
Blue North Trading Company, LLC. United States Washington
Blundell Seafoods Canada British Columbia
Bornstein Seafoods Inc. United States Oregon
C2C Premium Seafood Canada British Columbia
Calkins & Burke Canada British Columbia
Canadian Fishing Company Canada British Columbia
Catalina Offshore Products United States California
Catanese Classic Seafood United States Ohio
Centennial Foodservice Canada Alberta
Central California Seafood Marketing Association United States California
Central Coast Seafood United States California
Chesapeake Fish Co. United States California
City Fish Canada Alberta
CleanFish United States California
Clipper Seafoods, Ltd. United States Washington
Clipper Ship, Inc. United States Washington
Coal Point Seafood Company United States Alaska
Coastal Villages Seafoods, LLC United States Alaska
Codfathers Seafood Market Canada British Columbia
Community Seafood LLC United States California
Daily Seafood Inc. Canada Ontario
Dana F. Besecker Company United States Washington
Deep Sea Fisheries, Inc United States Washington
E&E Foods, LLC. United States Washington
E.C. Phillips & Son, Inc. United States Alaska
Ed's Kasilof Seafoods United States Alaska
Empire Fish Company United States Wisconsin
Euclid Fish Company United States Ohio
F/V Princess United States California
Flurer Smokery Ltd. Canada British Columbia
Foods in Season United States Washington
Fort Bragg Groundfish Association United States California
Fortune Fish & Gourmet United States Illinois
Global Seafoods North America United States Washington
Half Moon Bay Groundfish Marketing Association United States California
Hallmark Fisheries, Inc. United States Oregon
Halperns' Purveyors of Steak and Seafood United States Georgia
Harbor Pride Seafood United States California
Hudson Valley Seafood United States New York
Icicle Seafoods, Inc. United States Washington
Icy Strait Seafoods, Inc United States Washington
Ilwaco Landing LLC United States Washington
Iquique U.S., L.L.C. United States Washington
J&B Sales Co, LLC United States Washington
J.J. McDonnell United States Maryland
John Nagle Co. United States Massachusetts
Keyport LLC United States Washington
Kodiak Island WildSource United States Alaska
Lions Gate Fisheries, Ltd. Canada British Columbia
Lusamerica Foods, Inc. United States California
Marinelli Shellfish Co. United States Washington
Marx Foods United States Washington
Maximum Seafood Canada Ontario
Mikuni Wild Harvest United States Washington
Moore's Seafood Inc. United States California
Northeast Seafood Products, Inc. United States Colorado
Northern Lakes Seafood & Meats United States Michigan
Northern Products Corporation United States Washington
Northport Fisheries Inc. United States Washington
Northwest Fresh Seafood Company United States Oregon
Nova Fisheries/SunWave Processors United States Washington
Ocean Beauty Seafoods LLC United States Washington
Orca Bay Seafoods, Inc. United States Washington
Organic Ocean Seafood Inc. Canada British Columbia
Pacific Fresh Fish Ltd. Canada Saskatchewan
Pacific Harvest Seafood, Inc. United States Washington
Pacific Harvest Seafoods United States California
Pacific Seafood Group, Inc. United States Oregon
Pacific Star Seafoods, Inc. United States Alaska
Palomino Foods, Inc. United States Washington
Pickled Willy's United States Alaska
Pike Place Fish Market United States Washington
Pioneer Seafoods United States California
Port Orford Sustainable Seafood United States Oregon
Profish Ltd. United States District of Columbia
Providence Bay Fish Company United States Rhode Island
Real Good Fish United States California
Red River Seafood Company LLC United States Florida
Romanzof Fishing Co. LLC United States Washington
Royal Hawaiian Seafood United States California
Salty Girl Seafood United States California
Samuels & Son Seafood Company, Inc. United States Pennsylvania
Santa Monica Seafood, Inc. United States California
Sea Forager Seafood United States California
Sea to Table, USA United States New York
Seacore Seafood Inc. Canada Ontario
Seafood Merchants Ltd. United States Illinois
Seafood Producers Cooperative United States Washington
Seattle Fish Company United States Colorado
Seattle Fish Company of New Mexico United States New Mexico
Siren Fish Co. United States California
Sitka Salmon Shares United States Illinois
Slade Gorton & Co Inc. United States Massachusetts
Sleeping Giant Inc. United States Washington
SOGDA Limited, Inc. United States Washington
South Bay Wild, Inc. United States California
Stavis Seafoods United States Massachusetts
Tai Foong USA United States Washington
Taku Fisheries / Smokeries United States Alaska
Tonka Seafoods, Inc. United States Alaska
Tradex Foods Inc. Canada British Columbia
Triad Fisheries Ltd United States Washington
Triar Seafood Company United States Florida
Trident Seafoods Corp. United States Washington
Wild Fish Direct LLC United States Florida
Wild Local Seafood Co. United States California
Wild Woman Fish Co. United States Colorado
Willowfield Enterprises Ltd. Canada British Columbia
Worldwide Seafoods (1997) Ltd. Canada British Columbia