Orange Roughy

Latin name: Hoplostethus atlanticus

Common name: Deep Sea Perch

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Wild Caught

New Zealand, Commonwealth waters

Key Facts

  • Orange roughy live for well over 100 years 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.
  • Intense fishing pressure in the 1980s and 90s led to severe declines and the species is now listed as protected under Australian environmental law. Targeted fishing is permitted in some areas in Australia. One zone has been re-opened to fishing following evidence of marginal rebuilding of orange roughy, but concerns remain over the impact of fishing on this species.
  • Orange roughy is overfished in many areas of New Zealand, where targeted fishing is still occurring. In other areas where orange roughy are targeted, stock assessments do not exist or are outdated.
  • 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

  • Commonwealth Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (Commonwealth Trawl Sector) (459t in 2015)
  • Imported from New Zealand (7,811t caught in 2015-15; 316t imported into Australia 2016)

Orange roughy is a 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 20-35 years of age) high fishing pressure reduced populations to a point where the species could not reproduce quickly enough to replace their numbers removed by fishing.

There are four stocks of orange roughy that are caught in commercial fisheries in Australia.The majority of catch is from the eastern zone, which was re-opened in 2015 following evidence of marginal re-building, although there are concerns over the targeted fishing of a stock that remains at a quarter (26%) of historical abundances. Management measures (such as 100% independent observer coverage) have been put in place in an effort to support rebuilding of the population from its current depleted state. It is unclear whether the stock is rebuilding, and questionable whether targeted fishing is appropriate in this region where a more precautionary approach to rebuilding of an overfished species should be in place. Orange roughy are caught as bycatch in other areas, where their status is overfished.

The species is listed as ‘conservation dependent’ under Commonwealth environmental legislation, but this listing still permits targeted fishing of this protected species.

In NZ, the health of orange roughy remains of concern since AMCS’s last assessment for Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide. 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 do not exist or are outdated. Some stocks have rebuilt following overfishing.

The NZ orange roughy fishery has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, although this certification was contested internationally.

Orange roughy are caught using deep-sea bottom trawlers over seamounts. The area of Australia where orange roughy are currently caught has not been mapped, but 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 centuries.