THIS FISH

HARVESTING PROFILE

Sablefish (Black Cod) by Longline

British Columbia, Canada — Coastwide

Fish harvesters use baited hooks attached to a bottom longline to catch sablefish. Hooks are placed in deepwater offshore, targeting depths between 1,600 and 3,300 feet (500 and 1,000 metres) to capture fish. The sablefish fishery is part of an integrated multi-species fishery in B.C. that allows fish harvesters to keep several different species of cod, dogfish, flatfish and rockfish when fishing for sablefish.

Bottom Longline with Hooks
HARVESTING METHOD

Longline with Traps or Hooks

Sablefish traps consist of a conical-shaped steel frame covered with nylon netting. The traps capture fish live by attracting them with bait into an entrance that leads to a tunnel and the centre of the trap. All traps have an escape ring to allow small fish to get out. Once inside the traps, the larger sablefish are unable to escape. The traps are attached to a longline at even intervals that is anchored to the seafloor.

Bottom Longline with Hooks

The longline consists of a long rope, spooled on a hydraulic drum, which fish harvesters set from the stern of their vessels. Hooks are fastened to this rope using clips or swivels. The longline is set along the ocean floor where sablefish live. It is marked on the ocean surface using a float and flagpole at each end. Fish harvesters set several longlines at a time and haul them regularly to land their catch. Once aboard, the hooks are baited again, if need be, and the longline is reset. A longline can be up to two miles (3.2 km) long and have up to 2,000 hooks. About 35 vessels actively participate in the sablefish fishery each year.

Conservation Measures

Under an integrated fisheries management plan, licensed fishing vessels must own or lease both an individual quota of sablefish, but also other quota so that they can keep non-targeted species that might otherwise be thrown overboard. That means if sablefish fishermen accidentally catch halibut, for example, they must own or lease an equivalent amount of halibut quota. This allows them to keep the halibut or other non-target fish species and reduces bycatch (unwanted fish) mortality in the sablefish fishery. A number of other measures ensure conservation in this fishery. These include:

  • strict annual catch limits
  • a limitation on the number of licensed fishing vessels
  • restrictions on landing small fish
  • individual vessel accountability for all catch, released and retained
  • electronic monitoring at sea via onboard video cameras, and
  • dockside monitoring of catch unloading.
Quality and Handling

Sablefish caught by longline are individually hauled aboard, headed, cleaned and washed. Some catch is stored on ice, but the majority of sablefish are frozen at sea. After being hauled aboard, the sablefish are flash-frozen to a core temperature of -30 Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit). Freezing takes place within only hours of the sablefish being landed so that when the fish is thawed it has the quality of being freshly caught. That’s why many fishermen refer to frozen-at-sea sablefish as “fresh-frozen.” Most sablefish is exported to Japanese markets, although it is becoming increasingly popular in North America and Europe.

Harvesting Area

The sablefish longline fishery occurs along the entire coast of British Columbia, which is divided into eight fishery management areas. Since 2002, rockfish conservation areas have been created to protect vulnerable fish stocks from commercial and recreational harvesting. There are currently 164 rockfish conservation areas providing refuge to 37 different rockfish species along the coast. 

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Sablefish (Black Cod) Food Info