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Sablefish

Anoplopoma fimbria

Also Known As

  • Black cod
  • Butterfish
  • Skil
  • Beshow
  • Coalfish

U.S. farmed sablefish is a smart seafood choice because it is grown and harvested under U.S. state and federal regulations.

Environmental Impact

Federal and state regulations and monitoring requirements ensure that sablefish farming (as practiced in the United States) has minimal impact on the environment.

Feeds

Farmed sablefish are incredibly efficient at converting feed to edible protein. Alternative feeds have been developed to reduce reliance on fish meal and fish oil from forage fish.

Farming Methods

Sablefish are spawned and raised in land-based hatcheries until large enough for transfer to net pens.

Human Health

Sablefish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Antibiotic use is strictly limited in the United States and is prescribed only on a case-by-case basis by an on-site veterinarian.

  • Availability

    Year-round.

  • Source

    Pilot project in Washington.

  • 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.

  • Texture

    Soft, velvety texture. Their meat has large, white flakes.

  • Health Benefits

    Very high in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.

U.S. Farming

Management

  • Permitting for sablefish aquaculture is governed by federal, state, and local governments.
  • The federal agencies involved are NOAA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the Coast Guard.
  • Sablefish farms must adhere to federal regulations including those in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation & Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Farming Methods

  • Hatchery Production:
    • NOAA’s Manchester Research Station, in partnership with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and others, is experimentally growing juvenile sablefish.
    • Sablefish can be difficult to grow because it lives deep in the ocean and faces challenges like the high cost and duration of larval rearing.
    • Hatcheries can use captive or wild broodstock.
    • Eggs are fertilized externally and then are transferred to environmentally controlled tanks.
    • After hatching into fry, juvenile sablefish are raised to about 40 grams and then transferred to a grow-out facility.
  • Grow-out Facilities:
    • Farmed sablefish are grown out in land-based tanks or net pens, which are enclosed cages submerged in an aquatic environment.
    • Juvenile sablefish are also transferred from Washington to grow-out facilities in Texas and Canada.
    • In Texas, experimental grow-out is in an indoor recirculating system on land.
    • When harvested, sablefish are between 5 and 7 pounds.

Production

  • The United States currently does not produce farmed sablefish commercially. However, with the species popularity and prized taste there is a growing interest in commercial farming.

The Science

Feeds

  • Resource Efficiency:
    • Sablefish farming is a more resource-efficient method to produce protein compared to other animal food production.
    • The feed conversion ratio (FCR) is the amount of feed eaten by a fish relative to the amount of food it provides for human consumption.
    • Farmed sablefish have a more efficient FCR than wild fish and many terrestrial livestock including cows, pigs and chickens.
  • Fishmeal & Fish Oil:
    • Fishmeal and fish oil contain the balance of nutrients that most closely resemble the nutritional requirements of fish.
    • About 70% of global fishmeal and oil production comes from fisheries targeted at small, pelagic fish, such as sardine, anchovy and menhaden.
    • The remainder comes from processing fish wastes.
    • The world supply of fishmeal and oil coming from fisheries has remained constant over several decades.
    • Fishmeal and oil prices have increased dramatically over the last decade due to increased use of these fisheries for direct human consumption, and increased demand for fish oil for human nutraceuticals.
    • The aquaculture industry has developed feeds that use less or no fishmeal or fish oil, and has increased the use of fish processing waste.
    • The amount of fishmeal and oil in aquaculture is decreasing and projected to continue to decrease.
  • Alternative Feeds:
    • Feeds which eliminate fish meal and oil have been successfully used to grow sablefish.
    • NOAA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched the Alternative Feeds Initiative in 2007 to collaborate on research for alternative fish feeds.
    • As part of the Alternative Feeds Initiative, NOAA and the USDA published a 2012 report, The Future of Aquafeeds.
    • The FDA approved an ingredient called taurine for use as a supplement in fish feed in 2017 which reduces reliance on fish meal and oil.

Environmental Considerations

  • Water Quality & Benthic Impacts:
    • Impacts to the environment can occur around fish farms when organic nutrients from uneaten food and fish waste exceed the capacity of the ecosystem to assimilate them.
    • Potential environmental impacts are largely avoided with proper farm siting, husbandry, management, and modern technologies.
    • Modeling interactions of farms and the environment can help guide decisions about siting locations.
    • Fish farms in the United States are required to meet waste discharge standards under the Clean Water Act.
    • Water quality: when farms are sited in well-flushed water, nutrient enrichment in the water column is generally not detectable.
    • Benthic impacts: proper siting in well-flushed erosional sea floors, and practices such as fallowing, control the impact of fish farms on the benthic environment.
  • Escapes:
    • On rare occasions farmed fish escape and can possibly interact with their wild counterparts.
    • Federal and state permits require containment management systems at all marine sites.
    • NOAA is using models to understand the risk of escaped fish affecting the genetic diversity of wild populations.

Animal Health

  • Management & Remedies:
    • Fish diseases occur naturally in the wild, but their effects go unnoticed because dead fish quickly become prey.
    • Vaccines, probiotics, limiting farming density, high-quality diets, and controlled use of antibiotics prevent bacterial diseases in fish.
    • Management of viral infections occurs through thorough monitoring, healthy culture conditions, low stress environments, and good nutrition and genetics.
    • Parasites are controlled on farms using therapeutants, fallowing farm sites, and pest management such as the use of cleaner wrasses.
    • Most states have comprehensive aquatic animal health regulations, such as routine health exams by veterinarians.
  • Antibiotic Use:
    • In the United States, antibiotics may only be used to treat bacterial infections in marine fish under direction of a veterinarian on a case-by-case basis.
    • Antibiotics are considered a method of last resort and cannot be preemptively fed to fish.
    • Special permits obtained from the Food & Drug Administration may be required.
    • Vaccines have been effective in reducing, and in some cases eliminating, the need for antibiotics.

Human Health

  • Contaminants:
    • Aquaculture feed is regulated and monitored by the FDA and state agencies to ensure feeds are not contaminated with heavy metals or methyl mercury.
    • Both wild and farmed seafood contain low levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
    • PCB levels in farmed sablefish are orders of magnitude below the FDA lower limit.
  • Health Benefits:
    • Like wild sablefish, farmed sablefish contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

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.

Biology

  • 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.
  • Female sablefish usually produce between 60,000 and 200,000 eggs.
  • Sablefish can live to be more than 90 years old.

Research

Last updated: 06/25/2019