Orange Roughy have firm flesh that produces a white, boneless fillet that is amenable to freezing, and have proven quite popular with US consumers. Once commonly known as slimeheads, Orange Roughy (or Hoplostethus Atlanticus) were renamed by New Zealanders to reflect the bright orange colour and rough scales of the fish, and to sound more palatable to consumers.
The fish live in very deep waters and are caught in large trawls. Orange Roughy live to beyond 150 years of age and do not become sexually mature until around 25 years of age. As a result the fish are potentially slow to recover from the effects of overexploitation.
Generally, deep-sea species are depleted more quickly and recover even more slowly, if at all, than inshore species. They often live near seamounts, which are much like underwater mountains, and are often covered with unique corals and other species. Fish are often caught by dragging trawls over seamounts, destroying their habitat so those that do escape cannot survive in this area.
A report by TRAFFIC – the wildlife trade monitoring network – and the World Wildlife Fund in 2003 reveals that Orange Roughy (also known as deep-sea perch) fisheries have been ‘boom and bust’, with stocks fished to commercial extinction in as little as four years. It further stresses that this expanded activity also damages sensitive marine areas, such as seamounts, where many species new to science could face extinction before even being identified.
WWF and TRAFFIC are calling for urgent and strong measures, including fishing bans, to be adopted and enforced at the United Nations level in order to protect these areas.
The US is the main importer of Orange Roughy and consequently a lot of it ends up in Cayman. New Zealand is the main supplier, providing more than 60 per cent of US imports in 2002, followed by China (18 per cent) and Australia (17 per cent). Namibia was a major supplier, experiencing rapid expansion if its fishery and accounting for nearly one-third of US imports in the mid-1990s. Later, that same fishery declined rapidly and Namibia accounted for only two per cent of US imports in 2002.
Sustainable alternatives to Orange Roughy include: Tilapia, Pacific Sole and Summer Flounder.
Cayman Sea Sense is dedicated to helping consumers make informed and environmentally positive seafood choices. For more information on this and other seafood options please visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky/seasense.html or contact [email protected].