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Black Cod (Sablefish)

In the deep blue depths of Alaska's pristine waters lies what some would consider the best tasting fish in the world- Sablefish. This incredibly flavorful fish is also referred to as Black Cod or "Butterfish". It is widely known as an excellent fish for gourmet entrees and well received when smoked. It's name, Sablefish, is thought to be derived from the fact that it has a very soft, delicate texture. It is considered a delicacy by most seafood connoisseurs for it's beautiful snow-white fillets, rich succulent flavor, and velvety texture. If prepared correctly...it will literally melt in your mouth!

Black Cod Fishing Gallery

Watch just how black cod are caught, processed and packaged as the Kruzof's crew performs in this interesting video.

Sablefish, or black cod, looks much like a cod, but in fact, it is not a cod at all. It's scientific name is Anoplopoma fimbria and it is one of two members of the Anoplopomatidae family, a group of fish confined to the North Pacific.

Looking at the nutritional values of black cod, they can be considered as a very health beneficial fish. Sablefish are very high in heart-healthy Omega-3 oils, containing approximately as much as wild salmon do. They are also a great source of high-quality protein, iodine, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, and calcium. The fats in sablefish are highly polyunsaturated and thus well-suited to low cholesterol diets. They are very low in PCBs, dioxins, and mercury.

Another important factor about Black Cod is their sustainability status. This particular species information has become very important to consumers over the past several years. The good news is that Alaska holds the largest population of black cod in the world and their conservation status is at the lowest level of concern in terms of fish sustainability management. The Black Cod population is neither overfished nor approaching an overfished condition.

The commercial fishery for Sablefish is based on an IFQ style fishery. These individual fishing quotas run around 110-130 tons (In 2007, the total quota for Black Cod was approximately 2 millions pounds). The black cod fishery opens on March 15th and runs clear through November 15th giving fishermen ample time to catch the quotas safely. Black cod fisheries exist throughout Alaska including Cook Inlet, Bering Sea, Prince William Sound, Aleutian Islands, Gulf of Alaska, and Southeast Alaska. Black cod is commonly caught using the long-lining method, much like halibut, at depths around 300 to 340 fathoms (6' = 1 fathom). Fishermen lay out long sets of lines across the ocean floor. These sets are made up of skates, long lines with baited hooks attached to them. These sets can run nearly 3 miles in length and hold as many as 4000 or more hooks. Once the sets have had time to lure their catch, they are then hauled in where the sablefish are processed and frozen at sea to capture their quality. Black Cod is also caught using pot gear, trawl vessels, jig, and hand troll gear in certain designated areas. Average commercially-caught Black Cod measure about two feet long and weigh less than 10 pounds, though some have been reported being much larger weighing nearly 40 pounds.

Historically, in the 1880's a commercial fishery began for halibut with sablefish targeted as a secondary fishery in the inside waters of Southeast Alaska. In the late 50's, Japanese longliners began harvesting sablefish in the eastern Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska. In the 1970's, Japanese, Russian, Korean, and Taiwanese longliners focused on sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska. The U.S. longline fishery began expanding in the early 80's in the Gulf of Alaska, and by the late 80's almost all sablefish harvested in Alaska were taken by the U.S. fleet.

Sablefish have life spans similar to humans with reports of ages from 55 to 94 years of age. They are found in muddy sea beds at depths ranging from 300 to 2700 meters with the primary concentration of black cod occurring in the Gulf of Alaska along the continental slope. Sablefish follow a diurnal vertical migration pattern, rising as high as the surface water layer during the day and dropping down to the bottom layers at night. Juvenile sablefish tend to exist in shallower, near-shore waters along the coastline of Alaska. Of course, these shallower areas are restricted from commercial fishing. Sablefish breed annually in deep waters, and after spawning, their eggs rise to the surface where development occurs.

They are opportunistic feeders, preying on many types of fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods. And considering they are very tasty fish, you can imagine they are food to many other fish in the sea including larger cods, seals, and whales.

The F/V Kruzof - Freezer Longliner

Recently, we had the chance to speak with Rhonda Hubbard, wife of Captain Jim who operates the F/V Kruzof. The F/V Kruzof is a 60 ft fishing vessel that was built in 1997 and fishes for black cod annually throughout the Southeast waters of Alaska. Captain Jim, who has fished for some 31 years, runs a crew of 5 to 7 through the months of April and May. The F/V Kruzof generally lays 3 sets of 18 skates a day over a span of 3 miles. Each skate of approximately 900' in length and holds 240 baited hooks each. Each set consists of 15-23 skates and takes about 3 hours to haul in. The Hubbards have been kind enough to offer many fishing pictures and a great video, so be sure to click on the links below to see just how black cod is caught.

You can find out more about black cod on ASMI's informational Black Cod web page and ADF&G's sablefish homepage.

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