Species Bio: Sablefish (Black Cod
Sablefish (Black Cod)
Sablefish (commonly known as Black Cod or Butterfish) is a ground fish with dark gray or black skin. Despite its common name, it is not a member of the cod family. It can live at depths over 9,000 feet. Its high oil content gives the flesh a satiny yet flaky texture and distinct flavor.
The Sablefish season generally runs March through November, though it is managed by a catch share quota system that regulates the allowable catch based on fishers’ permits and catch method.
Sablefish is caught in ocean waters of the eastern Pacific, from southern California to the Bering Sea. It is also caught in the Western Pacific, from the eastern coast of Russia to Japan.
Sablefish comes from wild marine fisheries, not fish farms. It is most commonly caught longline gear. Additional catch methods include: handline, traps and bottom trawls.
Alaskan Sablefish is often preferred because the fish are generally larger (5-7 lbs.) than fish from the U.S. West Coast (2-4 lb. average). Trap-caught Sablefish generally yield excellent quality fish. Trawl-caught Sablefish bruise easily, generally resulting in a lesser-quality product for a lower price. Some fishers bleed and freeze Sablefish at sea, resulting in a premium product for a higher price.
Photo credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
In Your Seafood Case
Sablefish is generally displayed as fillet, skinless or skin-on. Be sure to cut the fillets in portions that consumers will want to buy. If selling skin-on fillets, be sure to display some with skin showing.
Sablefish has long pin bones that run along its centerline. These need to be removed with a tweezers before cooking. Its high fat content makes it a great fish for smoking, and also forgiving to the novice cook. It is difficult to overcook. It can be easily pan-fried, baked, grilled or steamed. It is also delicious batter-fried in fish tacos.
Alaskan Sablefish is considered to be a very sustainable fishery. Managed by NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, biomass is determined each year and quotas are divided by gear type, with about 85% of Sablefish quota caught with fixed gear (longline and trap) and 15% with trawl gear. For the individual fishing quota (IFQ) program, individuals have an allotted share of the total catch based on annual biomass. In California, Oregon and Washington, catch limits are allocated to the different gear types – about equal shares for fixed gear and trawl. There are also daily limits and IFQ allocations for some vessels. U.S. West Coast Sablefish is considered less sustainable because trawl gear damages ocean floor habitat and fixed gear catches at-risk/endangered bycatch. In British Columbia, the Sablefish fishery is managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and is considered to be a sustainable fishery.