Researchers seek better ways to farm sablefish

NOAA is studying ways to make it easier to commercially harvest the sablefish, prized for its flavor and as a possible solution to a worldwide demand for seafood

PORT ORCHARD — The dark-gray fish prized for its buttery flavor live deep in the ocean, so researchers keep their lab cold and dark to simulate ideal conditions for sablefish larvae.

A biologist shines his dim red headlamp and uses an ultrasound to scan the belly of an anesthetized sablefish about the length of his forearm to tell if it’s female and has eggs to collect. He gently squeezes out hundreds of tiny, translucent eggs into a glass beaker.

Once the eggs are fertilized externally, they’ll grow in large indoor tanks and some in floating net pens in Puget Sound to be used for research.

At this federal marine research station near Seattle, scientists are studying sablefish genetics and investigating ways to make it easier and more efficient to commercially grow the fish.

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It is part of a larger effort by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support marine aquaculture as a solution to feed a growing demand worldwide for seafood.

People are consuming more fish than in previous decades, with average worldwide per capita consumption hitting 43 pounds a year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Fish consumption is expected to grow more in coming years.

NOAA says aquaculture can relieve pressure on fishing populations and promote economic growth.

Fishermen along the West Coast, mostly in Alaska, catch millions of pounds of wild sablefish each year, but no commercial sablefish net-pen farming exists in the U.S.

Sablefish, also known as black cod or butterfish, are a long-lived species native to the northeast Pacific Ocean and highly valued in Asia for its beneficial nutrients and delicate flavor. The fish is grilled, smoked, poached, roasted…

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