2016 Assessment of the Sablefish Stock in the Gulf of Alaska

February 19, 2016

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. 2014). 

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). Larval sablefish sampled by neuston net in the eastern Bering Sea fed primarily on copepod nauplii and adult copepods (Grover and Olla 1990). 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 where they exhibit rapid growth, reaching 30-40 cm by the end of their second summer (Rutecki and Varosi 1997). Gao et al. (2004) studied stable isotopes in otoliths of juvenile sablefish from Oregon and Washington and found that as the fish increased in size they shifted from midwater prey to more benthic prey. In nearshore southeast Alaska, juvenile sablefish (20-45 cm) diets included fish such as Pacific herring and smelts and invertebrates such as krill, amphipods and polychaete worms (Coutré et al. 2015). In late summer, juvenile sablefish also consumed post-spawning pacific salmon carcass remnants in high volume, revealing opportunistic scavenging (Coutré et al. 2015). 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).

Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on 10/29/2020

Research in Alaska North Pacific Groundfish Stock Assessments Sablefish