Orange Roughy

Latin name: Hoplostethus atlanticus

Common name: Deep Sea Perch

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Wild Caught

New Zealand

Key Facts

  • Orange roughy live for up to 250years and inhabit deep ocean waters. The biology of this species (late to reproduce and exceptionally long lived) makes them particularly vulnerable to fishing, as they are unable to reproduce quickly enough to replenish their numbers.
  • Orange roughy is overfished in many areas of New Zealand, where targeted fishing is still occurring. In other areas where orange roughy are targeted, scientific stock assessments have had to be abandoned, meaning there is no longer reliable scientific information to support setting sustainable catches.
  • Orange roughy are caught using deep-sea bottom trawlers. This type of fishing gear damages deep-water habitat that supports slow growing communities (such as corals) that are extremely sensitive to disturbance and can take centuries to recover.

More information

  • Imported from New Zealand (10,257t caught in 2021/22; 152t imported into Australia in 2022)

Orange roughy is an extremely long-lived, deep-sea species. Individuals live for well over 100 years, which is one of the longest lives of any fish known. They live around seamounts (underwater mountains) at depths of down to 1800m. Orange roughy also tend to aggregate together, which has made them particularly easy for fisheries to target in previous years.

The first fisheries for orange roughy began operating in the 1980s and 90s and landed huge quantities of fish. However, catches rapidly declined from as high as 40,000 tonnes per year to 10s of tonnes within a period of two decades. As a particularly long-lived species that reproduces late (around up to 70-80 years of age before reaching full maturity) high fishing pressure reduced populations to a point where the species could not reproduce quickly enough to replace their numbers removed by fishing.

In NZ, the health of orange roughy remains of concern since the last GoodFish guide assessment. Many stocks remain overfished, with targeted fishing still occurring. In some areas the population has been reduced by over three-quarters of the original population size. In other areas where orange roughy are targeted, stock assessments have had to be abandoned, as it has been found that their predictions of abundance have not been reflected in the industry’s ability to catch orange roughy. There is evidence that breeding aggregations over some seamounts have apparently disappeared in recent years, with seriously concerning ramifications for the health of populations. Recent evidence has shown that orange roughy breed much later than previously thought, and do not breed in every winter season. This has serious implications for the assumed productivity and resilience of orange roughy to intensive fishing pressure.

The NZ orange roughy fishery has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, although this certification was contested internationally. Fishery sustainability has not improved since certification and has recently been suspended, due to the aforementioned abandonment of scientific stock assessments.

Orange roughy are caught using deep-sea bottom trawlers over seamounts. Research has identified that deep-water marine habitats support species that are generally slow growing and highly sensitive to disturbance, in particular, deep-water corals. Recovery from the impacts of trawling on deep-sea habitats could take at least decades and possibly centuries.