About the Species
U.S. wild-caught sablefish is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Alaska sablefish are above target population levels. Pacific Coast sablefish are near target population levels, but fishing rates promote population growth.
At recommended levels.
The trawl, longline, and pot gear used to harvest sablefish have minimal or temporary effects on habitat.
Regulations limit the amount of incidentally caught and discarded fish in the Alaska fishery. The catch shares program on the West Coast creates incentives to reduce bycatch.
There are two stocks of sablefish: Eastern Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands/Gulf of Alaska and Pacific coast. According to the most recent stock assessments:
- The Eastern Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands/Gulf of Alaska stock is not overfished (2020 stock assessment) and not subject to overfishing based on 2020 catch data. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
- The Pacific coast stock is not overfished (2019 stock assessment) and not subject to overfishing based on 2018 catch data. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
- Sablefish look much like cod. They are often referred to as black cod, even though they are not actually part of the cod family.
- Females can grow more than 3 feet in length.
- Females are able to reproduce at 6 ½ years old and more than 2 feet in length.
- Males are able to reproduce at age 5 and 1.9 feet in length.
- Sablefish spawn in deeper water along the continental slope from January to April in Alaska waters, and from January to March between California and British Columbia.
- Eggs develop in deep water for about 2 weeks until they hatch, then rise to the surface.
- Hatched larvae are moved by surface currents.
- Off southeast Alaska and British Columbia, juveniles appear in nearshore waters by fall.
- Juveniles have been found to migrate more than 2,000 miles in 6 or 7 years.
- Sablefish can live to be more than 90 years old.
Where They Live
- Sablefish are found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean from northern Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska, westward to the Aleutian Islands and into the Bering Sea.
- There are two populations in the Pacific Ocean:
- Northern population inhabits Alaska and northern British Columbia waters.
- Southern population inhabits southern British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California waters.
- Both populations mix off southwest Vancouver Island and northwest Washington.
- They are most commonly found in Alaska waters.
- NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the sablefish fishery in Alaska.
- Managed under the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Groundfish Fishery Management Plans:
- The State of Alaska manages fisheries in state waters under a shared quota system and also manages separate state fisheries.
- NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the sablefish fishery on the West Coast.
- Managed under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:
- Coast-wide catch limits among different fishing groups and gear types.
- Daily trip limits for some vessels.
- Individual fishing quota (catch shares) for the trawl fishery and some of the fixed gear fishery. The West Coast groundfish trawl fishery is managed under a trawl rationalization catch share program.
- Full observer coverage in the trawl fishery, partial coverage in the fixed gear fishery.
- Commercial fishery:
- In 2019, commercial landings of sablefish totaled more than 40.8 million pounds and were valued at more than $89 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.
- Sablefish are the highest valued finfish per pound in Alaska and West Coast commercial fisheries because of their rich oil content.
- Gear, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
- Longlines are used to harvest the majority of sablefish in Alaska.
- Increased catch efficiency, because of individual fishing quotas, reduces the number of hooks deployed and effects on bottom habitat.
- Individual fishing quotas reduce bycatch by allowing fishermen to operate at a slower pace and providing incentives to fish efficiently.
- Pot fishing has increased in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and the Gulf of Alaska, in response to killer whale interactions with fishing.
- West Coast fishermen harvest sablefish with trawls, longlines, and pots.
- Recreational fishery:
- Sablefish are occasionally caught in Alaska recreational fisheries during their summer migrations onto the continental shelf.
Recreational Fishing Regulations
Commercial Fishing Regulations
Subsistence Fishing Regulations
NOAA Fisheries conducts various research activities on the biology, behavior, and population health of sablefish. The results of this research are used to inform management decisions for this species.
Dive Deeper Into Our Research
Sablefish in Alaska
NOAA’s Fisheries assesses sablefish populations and their role in Alaska ecosystems to provide information critical for the conservation and management of this prized species.
Recent Science Blogs
Regulatory Impact Review For a Proposed Regulatory Amendment to Remove GOA Sablefish IFQ Pot Gear Tags and Notary Certification Requirements
Analysis of changes to regulations to remove recordkeeping and reporting requirements for a notary…
The Alaska Fisheries Science Center's longline survey station calendar.
Regulatory Impact Review for a Temporary Rule (Emergency Action) to Allow Flexibility for Halibut and Sablefish Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Transfers in 2021
Analysis of the costs and benefits of an emergency rule to modify the halibut and sablefish…
Data & Maps
Sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) inhabit the northeastern Pacific Ocean from northern Mexico to the…
Conditions in the Gulf of Alaska were close to average in 2020...
Considerable cooling began in late December 2019 and allowed for rapid build-up of sea ice,…