Sometimes the news about fisheries seems dismal. Scientists have estimated that up to 90 percent of large predatory fish (those that eat other animals – and usually end up on our dinner plates) have disappeared since humans began heavy fishing. Many favorite seafood items, like bluefin tuna, are given warning flags on sustainable seafood guides, indicating that their populations are in trouble and we should avoid eating them.
But some popular edible fish are not currently in danger of collapsing. For example, sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria), found in deep waters of the northeast Pacific, is a well-studied and successfully managed commercial fishery. Also called black cod and Alaskan butterfish, sablefish have a buttery taste and resemble cod, though they are not closely related.
Sablefish stand in contrast to another deep-sea fish called the orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus), which humans overharvested before understanding its long, slow life cycle. Sablefish have avoided the same fate through a combination of natural factors and careful management. Sablefish mature and reproduce more quickly than roughy, which helps maintain their populations. They have been well studied in annual population surveys, and fishery managers, especially in Alaska, have been more cautious in setting limits on the number of fish that can be caught.
Overall, Alaskan fisheries offer good news on sustainable seafood. Worldwide, out of 30 fisheries currently certified as good environmental choices by the Marine Stewardship Council, six are partially or completely within the waters around Alaska. They include salmon, pollock, halibut, and, of course, sablefish. Check out other environmentally sound seafood choices by downloading a sustainable seafood guide.
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