Sablefish

The fishery

Sablefish are harvested from the deep, cold waters of Canada’s Pacific coast. They have a sleek black or dark grey skin and pearly white meat. It is a premium species of fish prized for its large velvety flake and sweet rich flavour. Sablefish have a high-oil content, making them a forgiving fish to cook. The oil buffers against overcooking, so Sablefish can be deliciously prepared by both chefs and at-home cooks. Sablefish is one of the most valuable fish species harvested in BC.

The Canadian Sablefish Association (CSA) is an industry association that represents the majority of Sablefish licence holders, processors, and crews. The CSA takes pride in protecting BC Sablefish for future generations, investing in research to manage the resource sustainably, and taking steps to respect fish habitat. For over 30 years the CSA has partnered with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to invest in true co-management and stewardship of Canada’s Sablefish resource. Through developing innovative scientific research, stock assessments, and ground-breaking fisheries management approaches, the CSA meets and exceeds Canada’s harvest policy requirements and is recognized for achieving a high standard of fisheries management.

About

Sablefish are deep-sea groundfish found in the Pacific Ocean, from the Bering Sea to California. Although Sablefish are commonly referred to as Black Cod, the species is not a member of the Cod family. Sablefish are found on the continental shelf or slope waters at depths of 1,500 metres. They can be highly migratory and long-lived, the oldest Sablefish recovered from BC waters was 92 years old. Age, growth rate, and maturity of Sablefish vary depending on the area and depth, but the initial growth is rapid. Females reach an average of 55 cm in 3 to 5 years and about half are mature at age 5-6 years. Sablefish spawn in deeper waters from approximately January to March. Juveniles can be found nearshore near the surface before moving into deeper offshore waters.

The harvest

Sablefish are harvested using two types of longline fishing gear. In the trap fishery, baited traps of about 54 inches hoop diameter are attached to a longline are set on the ocean floor. Sablefish are attracted by the bait to enter a tunnel that leads to the centre of the trap. Traps are placed every 45 m (150 ft) and approximately 60 traps are deployed on each set. Commercial traps have escape rings that allow small, immature Sablefish to exit the trap. The traps also feature a mesh “rot” panel secured with twine that is biodegradable to stop them from fishing in the event that they are lost. Each end of the longline is anchored and marked with floating buoys.

Sablefish must be over 55 cm in length to be legally retained. If undersized, “sub-legal” Sablefish are brought onboard, they are required to be released back into the ocean as soon as possible. Sablefish do not have a swim bladder, so their survival after release is much higher than a species with a swim bladder when caught by longline trap or hook gear.

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Sustainability

The Sablefish fishery has various stock assessment and management measures in place to promote sustainability. Each year the CSA and DFO conduct a coastwide survey to gather information on stock abundance and biological characteristics such as fish size, sex, maturity, and age. Assessments are completed every 3-5 years help to establish how the annual Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is calculated. Adjustments are made to the TAC every year in response to survey information. Each vessel participating in the fishery has an Individual Vessel Quota and vessels are prevented from exceeding their quota by a robust catch-monitoring program.

The Sablefish fishery has 100% at-sea Electronic Monitoring and 100% dockside monitoring. At-sea Electronic Monitoring uses a system of video cameras deployed on each vessel. The vessel master is also required to complete a DFO approved catch validation and harvest logbook to document every fish caught. Both fish that are retained and fish that are released back into the water must be recorded. A portion of the video from each fishing trip is reviewed by an independent third-party to assess agreement with the harvest logbook. All fishing details including the date, time, location, gear, bait used, and any lost or found fishing gear must also be recorded. Vessels can only offload at approved landing ports and all landings are monitored by a government-designated dockside observer.

When

The Sablefish fishery operates year-round, the fishing season begins on February 21st and ends on February 20th of the following year. Sablefish crews on trap gear vessels fish far offshore, staying out at sea for weeks to months at a time. Fishing depths typically range from about 450 – 820 metres deep! Since Sablefish are found in deep remote waters, most of the Sablefish for market is cleaned and blast frozen on board within minutes of being caught, thereby maintaining its premium quality.

When

The Sablefish fishery operates year-round, the fishing season begins on February 21st and ends on February 20th of the following year. Sablefish crews on trap gear vessels fish far offshore, staying out at sea for weeks to months at a time. Fishing depths typically range from about 450 – 820 metres deep! Since Sablefish are found in deep remote waters, most of the Sablefish for market is cleaned and blast frozen on board within minutes of being caught, thereby maintaining its premium quality.

Where

Sablefish are a ubiquitous fish in BC, with juveniles found in shallower nearshore waters and larger mainland inlets and adults deep in the open waters of the outer coast. However, the commercial fishery occurs on the outer coast from the southern border of BC to the border with Alaska. The spatial distribution of the catch varies over years depending on fish distribution.

The market

Sablefish are headed and gutted at-sea. This process is also referred to as “J-Cut” where the fish are cut at 45 degree angle along the collar. The majority of the Sablefish caught are blast froze at -40 degrees as soon as possible to maintain their premium quality. Sablefish are growing in popularity around the world, but the main market for Sablefish is Japan or other destinations in southeast Asia, China, and Europe. Sablefish are available to the consumer market in a variety of product forms providing great versatility and endless opportunities in the kitchen. For more information on wild Canadian Sablefish, head to: https://www.canadiansablefish.com