Anoplopoma fimbria

Also Known As

  • Black cod
  • Butterfish
  • Skil
  • Beshow
  • Coalfish

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


Alaska sablefish are below target level and Pacific coast sablefish are near target level. Fishing rates promote population growth.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

The trawl, longline, and pot gear used to harvest sablefish have minimal or temporary effects on habitat.


Regulations limit the amount of incidentally caught and discarded fish in the Alaska fishery. The catch shares program on the West Coast creates incentives to reduce bycatch.

  • Availability


  • Source

    Wild-caught off Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California.

  • Taste

    Sablefish have high oil content, making them exceptionally flavorful. They are often called butterfish because of their melt-in-your-mouth, oil-rich meat. Sablefish has a short shelf life and must be handled carefully.

  • Texture

    Sablefish have soft, velvety texture. Their meat has large, white flakes.

  • Health Benefits

    Very high in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, and DHA.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management


  • Commercial fishery:
    • In 2018, commerical harvest of sablefish totaled more than 38.6 million pounds and were valued at more than $111 million.
    • Sablefish are the highest valued finfish per pound in Alaska and West Coast commercial fisheries because of their rich oil content.
  • Gear, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • Longlines are used to harvest the majority of sablefish in Alaska.
    • Increased catch efficiency, because of individual fishing quotas, reduces the number of hooks deployed and effects on bottom habitat.
    • Individual fishing quotas reduce bycatch by allowing fishermen to operate at a slower pace and providing incentives to fish efficiently.
    • Pot fishing has increased in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and the Gulf of Alaska, in response to killer whale interactions with fishing.
    • West Coast fishermen harvest sablefish with trawls, longlines, and pots.
  • Recreational fishery:
    • Sablefish are occasionally caught in Alaska recreational fisheries during their summer migrations onto the continental shelf.

The Science

Population Status

  • According to the 2015 stock assessment, the West Coast sablefish stock is not overfished and is not subject to overfishing based on 2018 catch data.
  • According to the 2018 stock assessment, the Eastern Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands/Gulf of Alaska sablefish stock is not overfished and is not subject to overfishing.


  • 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 in the Pacific Ocean:
    • Northern population inhabits Alaska and northern British Columbia waters.
    • Southern population inhabits southern British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California waters.
    • Both populations mix off southwest Vancouver Island and northwest Washington.
  • They are most commonly found in Alaska waters.


  • Adults live on mud bottoms in waters deeper than 650 feet.
  • Juveniles live throughout the water column in nearshore waters.

Physical Description

  • Sablefish look much like cod. They are often referred to as black cod, even though they are not actually part of the cod family.


  • Females can grow more than 3 feet in length.
  • Females are able to reproduce at 6 ½ years old and more than 2 feet in length.
  • Males are able to reproduce at age 5 and 1.9 feet in length.
  • Sablefish spawn in deeper water along the continental slope from January to April in Alaska waters, and from January to March between California and British Columbia.
  • Eggs develop in deep water for about 2 weeks until they hatch, then rise to the surface.
  • Hatched larvae are moved by surface currents.
  • Off southeast Alaska and British Columbia, juveniles appear in nearshore waters by fall.
  • Juveniles have been found to migrate more than 2,000 miles in 6 or 7 years.
  • Sablefish can live to be more than 90 years old.


  • NOAA Fisheries has been tagging and releasing sablefish in Alaska waters since 1972.
  • Scientists use data from this program to study sablefish movements.
  • Results show that sablefish are highly migratory for at least part of their lives, and that their migration can affect the amount of fish available for harvest in an area.
  • Although the results of the longline survey are the primary data used to determine sablefish quotas, tag data provide complementary information that enhances survey data.
  • NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center assesses the abundance of sablefish through annual longline surveys and trawl surveys every 1 to 3 years.
  • Northwest Fisheries Science Center conducts bottom trawl surveys to assess the abundance of sablefish and other groundfish off the West Coast.
  • Fishery data are collected by fishery observers and through required and voluntary logbook programs.

Last updated: 03/19/2020