First observations of fine-scale juvenile sablefish movements in the wild reveal behavioral patterns that may influence survival
By: Christine Baier
Sablefish, butterfish, black cod – by any name, people call this fish delicious. Its delicate texture, buttery flavor and rich omega-3 content add up to a high value fishery: while sablefish make up a small portion of commercial catch by volume, their high price generates a lot of income for Alaska’s seafood industry—a big economic bang per fish.
To keep a fishery productive over time, managers need to know how fish populations respond to environmental changes and human activity. Understanding how these factors influence survival of vulnerable juvenile fish is crucial to predicting and ensuring recruitment (the number of fish that grow to a size commercially profitable to catch) to the fishery.
Despite their value in the seafood industry, there is a lot we don’t know about sablefish.
“Sablefish are kind of mysterious,” says Karson Coutré, a NOAA Fisheries affiliate with Earth Resources Technology, Inc. at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “Adults live far offshore in deep water, and their range is vast. They spawn in winter, when rough seas and weather make research difficult. Young sablefish live close to shore, but they can be difficult to find – they show up at unpredictable times and places.”
Coutré is lead author of a new NOAA Fisheries study that documents for the first time fine-scale vertical movements of juvenile sablefish in the wild. The study begins to fill a gap in our knowledge of the behavioral patterns that influence juvenile sablefish survival in nearshore habitats.
Photo: A juvenile sablefish, tagged and ready to be released back into the wild. Photo: Kari Fenske, NOAA Fisheries