Opah swimming near the surface of the water.

About The Species

U.S. wild-caught opah is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population Level

The population level is unknown but presumed stable.

Fishing Status

Fishing rates are unknown.

Habitat Impact

Fishing gear used to catch opah rarely contacts the ocean floor so habitat impacts are minimal.

Bycatch

There is no directed fishery for opah and no known bycatch concerns.

Status

  • Opah has never been assessed, but there is no evidence that populations are in decline or that fishing rates are too high.
  • Despite the opah's value to commercial and recreational fishermen, little research on the basic biology and ecology of opah has been conducted.
  • To begin to fill some of the data gaps, NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center began collecting biological samples from opah in 2009 and initiated an electronic tagging program in 2011.
  • Scientists hope to continue tagging opah to learn about their movements and range. This research will provide the basic life history information necessary for future population assessments and management.
Appearance
  • Opah are an unusual looking fish—they have a round, flat body that’s silvery gray in color.
  • Toward the belly, the silver shades to a rose red, dotted with white spots.
  • Their fins and mouth are red, and their large eyes are encircled with gold.
Behavior and Diet
  • Because opah are not a major commercial seafood species and they live in the deep ocean, scientists know very little about their biology and ecology.
  • Scientists assume opah share general characteristics with other Pacific Ocean pelagic fish.
  • Scientists estimate that opah grow quickly.
  • Although they’re not sure of opah’s exact life span, scientists age opah by their fin rays, assuming fin ray marks are formed annually.
  • Most opah caught in longline fisheries are estimated to be between 1 and 6 years old.
  • They average about 100 pounds with a diameter of 3 feet.
  • Opah spawn in warm surface waters throughout the year in the tropics and more seasonally in cooler waters.
  • Opah seem to be very productive, potentially spawning many times throughout the spawning season.
  • Opah are capable of traveling long distances, often in response to changing oceanic conditions such as temperature.
Location Description

Opah are found in tropical and temperate waters around the world.

Management
  • NOAA Fisheries and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council manage this fishery in the Pacific Islands.
  • Managed under the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific:
    • No management measures specifically apply to opah. However, general management measures apply to the fisheries that harvest opah.
    • Fishermen are required to have permits and record their catch.
    • Gear restrictions and operational requirements to minimize bycatch and potential gear conflicts among different fisheries.
    • A limit on the number of permits for Hawaii and American Samoa longline fisheries controls participation in the fishery.
    • Longline fishing is prohibited in some areas to protect endangered Hawaiian monk seals, reduce conflicts between fishermen, and prevent localized stock depletion (when a large quantity of fish are removed from an area).
    • These zones are enforced through the NOAA Fisheries vessel monitoring system program (longline boats must be equipped with a satellite transponder that provides real-time position updates and tracks vessel movements).
    • Hawaii- and American Samoa–based longline vessels must carry onboard observers when requested by NOAA Fisheries, in part to record interactions with sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals.
    • Annual training in safe handling and release techniques for protected species is required, and all vessels must carry and use specific equipment for handling and releasing these animals.