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Opah

Lampris guttatus, Lampris spp.

Illustration of an Opah

Also Known As

  • Moonfish

U.S. wild-caught opah is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

The population level is unknown but presumed stable.

Fishing Rate

Fishing rates are unknown.

Habitat Impacts

Fishing gear used to catch opah rarely contacts the ocean floor so habitat impacts are minimal.

Bycatch

There is no directed fishery. Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch in the tuna and swordfish fisheries, which incidentally catch opah.

  • Availability

    Year-round, but landings seem to peak from April through August.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from Hawaii, California, and surrounding high seas.

  • Taste

    Opah has a rich, creamy taste. The flavor is distinctive, a cross between tuna and swordfish.

  • Texture

    Firm and fatty with large flakes.

  • Color

    Raw flesh ranges from dark red to orange to pink, and turns white when cooked.

  • Health Benefits

    Opah is a rich source of omega-3s, protein, niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, phosphorus, and selenium. It is also low in sodium.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • NOAA Fisheries and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council manage this fishery in the Pacific Islands.
  • Managed under the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific:
    • No management measures specifically apply to opah. However, general management measures apply to the fisheries that harvest opah.
    • Fishermen are required to have permits and record their catch.
    • Gear restrictions and operational requirements to minimize bycatch and potential gear conflicts among different fisheries.
    • A limit on the number of permits for Hawaii and American Samoa longline fisheries controls participation in the fishery.
    • Longline fishing is prohibited in some areas to protect endangered Hawaiian monk seals, reduce conflicts between fishermen, and prevent localized stock depletion (when a large quantity of fish are removed from an area).
    • These zones are enforced through the NOAA Fisheries vessel monitoring system program (longline boats must be equipped with a satellite transponder that provides real-time position updates and tracks vessel movements).
    • Hawaii- and American Samoa–based longline vessels must carry onboard observers when requested by NOAA Fisheries, in part to record interactions with sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals.
    • Annual training in safe handling and release techniques for protected species is required, and all vessels must carry and use specific equipment for handling and releasing these animals.

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • In 2016, commercial landings of opah in Hawaii totaled more than 2 million pounds and were valued at $3.3 million.
    • There is no directed fishery for opah, but they are harvested in small but still significant quantities. U.S. fishermen catch them incidentally in tuna and swordfish fisheries around the U.S. Pacific Islands and off southern California.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • In Hawaii, opah are caught using longlines set deep below the surface to target bigeye tuna.
    • Off California, they're taken incidentally in the California drift gillnet fishery targeting swordfish.
  • Recreational fishery:
    • Although not commonly caught, opah are prized by deepwater recreational anglers for their unique colors and light flavor.

The Science

Population Status

  • Opah has never been assessed, but there is no evidence that populations are in decline or that fishing rates are too high.
  • Despite the opah's value to commercial and recreational fishermen, little research on the basic biology and ecology of opah has been conducted.
  • To begin to fill some of the data gaps, NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center began collecting biological samples from opah in 2009 and initiated an electronic tagging program in 2011.
  • Scientists hope to continue tagging opah to learn about their movements and range. This research will provide the basic life history information necessary for future population assessments and management.

Location

  • Opah are found in tropical and temperate waters around the world.

Habitat

  • Opah live in deep open ocean waters.

Physical Description

  • Opah are an unusual looking fish—they have a round, flat body that’s silvery gray in color.
  • Toward the belly, the silver shades to a rose red, dotted with white spots.
  • Their fins and mouth are red, and their large eyes are encircled with gold.

Biology

  • Because opah are not a major commercial seafood species and they live in the deep ocean, scientists know very little about their biology and ecology.
  • Scientists assume opah share general characteristics with other Pacific Ocean pelagic fish.
  • Scientists estimate that opah grow quickly.
  • Although they’re not sure of opah’s exact life span, scientists age opah by their fin rays, assuming fin ray marks are formed annually.
  • Most opah caught in longline fisheries are estimated to be between 1 and 6 years old.
  • They average about 100 pounds with a diameter of 3 feet.
  • Opah spawn in warm surface waters throughout the year in the tropics and more seasonally in cooler waters.
  • Opah seem to be very productive, potentially spawning many times throughout the spawning season.
  • Opah are capable of traveling long distances, often in response to changing oceanic conditions such as temperature.

Last updated: 11/14/2018