2014 Assessment of the Sablefish Stock in Alaska
Sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) inhabit the northeastern Pacific Ocean from northern Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska (GOA), westward to the Aleutian Islands (AI), and into the Bering Sea (BS) (Wolotira et al. 1993). Adult sablefish occur along the continental slope, shelf gullies, and in deep fjords, generally at depths greater than 200 m. Sablefish observed from a manned submersible were found on or within 1 m of the bottom (Krieger 1997). In contrast to the adult distribution, juvenile sablefish spend their first two to three years on the continental shelf of the GOA, and occasionally on the shelf of the southeast BS. The BS shelf is utilized significantly in some years and seldom used during other years (Shotwell et al. 2012).
Spawning is pelagic at depths of 300-500 m near the edges of the continental slope (Mason et al. 1983, McFarlane and Nagata 1988), with eggs developing at depth and larvae developing near the surface as far offshore as 180 miles (Wing 1997). Along the Canadian coast (Mason et al. 1983) and off Southeast Alaska (Jennifer Stahl, February, 2010, ADF&G, pers. comm.) sablefish spawn from January-April with a peak in February. In a survey near Kodiak Island in December, 2011 that targeted sablefish preparing to spawn, spawning appeared to be imminent, but spent fish were not found. It is likely that they would spawn in January or February (Katy Echave, October 2012, AFSC, pers. comm.). Farther down the coast off of central California sablefish spawn earlier, from October-February (Hunter et al. 1989). An analysis of larval otoliths showed that spawning in the Gulf of Alaska may be a month later than southern sablefish (Sigler et al. 2001). Sablefish in spawning condition were also noted as far west as Kamchatka in November and December (Orlov and Biryukov 2005). In gill nets set at night for several years on the AFSC longline survey, most young-of-the-year sablefish were caught in the central and eastern GOA (Sigler et al. 2001). Near the end of the first summer, pelagic juveniles less than 20 cm move inshore and spend the winter and following summer in inshore waters, reaching 30-40 cm by the end of their second summer (Rutecki and Varosi 1997). After their second summer, they begin moving offshore to deeper water, typically reaching their adult habitat, the upper continental slope at 4 to 5 years. This corresponds to the age range when sablefish start becoming reproductively viable (Mason et al. 1983).
A movement model for Alaskan sablefish was developed for Alaskan sablefish by Heifetz and Fujioka (1991) based on 10 years of tagging data. The model has been updated by incorporating data from 1979-2009 in an AD Model Builder program, with time-varying reporting rates, and tag recovery data from ADF&G for State inside waters (Southern Southeast Inside and Northern Southeast Inside). In addition, the study estimated mortality rates from the tagging data (Hanselman et al. in press). Annual movement probabilities were high, ranging from 10-88% depending on area of occupancy at each time step, and size group. Overall, movement probabilities were very different between areas of occupancy and moderately different between size groups. Estimated annual movement of small sablefish from the central Gulf of Alaska had the reverse pattern of a previous study, with 29% moving westward and 39% moving eastward. Movement probabilities also varied annually with decreasing movement until the late 1990s and increasing movement until 2009. Year specific magnitude in movement probability of large fish was highly negatively correlated with female spawning biomass estimates from the federal stock assessment. Average mortality estimates from time at liberty were similar to the stock assessment.