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Fish!

Orange Roughy: delicacy from the deep

Preview
Orange roughy live in a world which is cold, dark and has a water pressure 80-100 times that of water at the surface.

photograph of individual orange roughyUp until about 30 years ago orange roughy managed to survive away from human intervention. But modern technology has now enabled us to reach more than a kilometre under the sea to harvest orange roughy as one of New Zealand's richest fisheries.

Vital statistics
The orange roughy fishery
Managing the fishery

Vital statistics
Main features
Distribution
Lifespan
Size
Diet
Breeding
photograph orange roughy pile in fishbin

Main features
Reddish body and fins
Large, bony head
Large eyes
Oil-rich, with waxy layer below the skin
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Distribution
Found around the world, including the North Atlantic, where they were first discovered in 1889. Present in large numbers in specific locations around New Zealand between 800-1500 metres depth.

Lifespan
Slow-growing, long-lived fish, thought to live up to 150 years.

Size
Most fish caught are 30-40 cm long and weigh between 0.9-1.9 kg. Maximum size is 50 cm and 3.6 kg.

Diet
Mainly prawns, fish and squid.

Breeding
Fish do not begin to breed until they are 25-30 years old. Each female carries about 22,000 eggs per kilogram of body weight, less than 10 percent of the average for other species. The eggs are 2 mm in diameter.

cartoon image of orange roughy sitting on ocean bottomFish gather into huge schools for spawning each year from late June to early August. The main spawning grounds around New Zealand are the Challenger Plateau, Cook Canyon, Puysegur Bank, North Chatham Rise, Ritchie Bank and East Cape at depths of between 700-1000 metres. The underwater terrain is rugged, with hills, pinnacles and canyons.

Fertilised eggs drift towards the surface and hatch into larvae after 8-9 days. It is not known where the juveniles live. The fish are not usually encountered again until they are caught as adults by commercial fishers.
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The orange roughy fishery
Orange roughy is one of New Zealand's most valuable export species. Most are caught on the Chatham Rise.


Fig.1: Commercial catches of orange roughy by area
Click for larger image              


Its firm, white flesh and delicate shellfish-like flavour have made it highly popular around the world. The carcass and skin are rich in oil, which could be developed as a substitute for the oil obtained from sperm whales.

Orange roughy was virtually unknown in New Zealand waters until the 1970s. Commercial fishing did not really develop until 1979. Fisheries have also developed off Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Nambia.

The main fishing season is from June to August, during the spawning season, when fish come together in aggregations and are easier to catch. It is only with the use of high technology that the fish can be located and caught.

map of main orange roughy fishing + spawning areas within NZ
Fishing grounds and known spawning areas.

Orange roughy catches peaked at around 54,000 tonnes in 1988/89. Since then catch rates have declined as quotas have been reduced to establish a sustainable catch level. In 1997/98 16,664 tonnes were caught, in 1995 this fetched $154 million on the overseas markets.Exports are now down to around $79 million in 1998.
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Managing the fishery

Since quotas for orange roughy were introduced in 1986, scientists have found that the fish breed later and live much longer than most other fish. This means they are also much less productive than other fish species and stocks take a long time to recover from heavy fishing pressure.

As a result the Government has reduced the Total Allowable Commercial Catch for orange roughy in recent years. However, there is concern that orange roughy are still being fished too heavily to allow stocks to rebuild to optimum size.

photograph of scientist analysing Orange Roughy

Orange roughy are being managed on a stock by stock basis (Chatham Rise, Challenger Plateau, etc). Some of these stocks are genetically distinct. Because orange roughy are so important to our economy, a lot of effort is put into researching the species.

For more information click on any link below.

 

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