Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Aquaculture of Sablefish off the U.S. West Coast


Sablefish (also known as black cod or butterfish) are a deepwater species native to the West Coast of the U.S. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids and have white firm flesh with superior quality and taste. While the landed weight of sablefish in the commercial fishery is not large compared with other fish, the exceptionally high value of this species ranks it 3rd in economic value behind walleye pollock and Pacific cod.

Wild sablefish populations are currently stable and harvest is not expected to increase. As a result, the wild product is limited, which creates strong interest in aquaculture of this species.

NOAA scientists helped streamline sablefish production

Aquaculture of sablefish is relatively new. Until recently, several challenges prevented U.S. growers from fully committing to grow sablefish in aquaculture operations, including the development of captive broodstocks and the high cost and duration of larval rearing

Through a NOAA National Sea Grant to the University of Washington, NOAA scientists are partnering with tribes, academia, and industry to address these challenges by developing and transferring research technologies to commercially produce sablefish.

For example, over the past 5 years, researchers at NOAA’s Manchester Research Station have been developing captive broodstocks and have also made significant advances in larval rearing techniques and in streamlining this costly phase. These improvements have included research on tank design, elevated temperatures to shorten the larval rearing phase, and the substitution of inexpensive alternatives (e.g., clay) in place of algae for producing opacity in rearing water during the live feed period.

In addition, NOAA researchers have developed the techniques to produce sablefish neomales (XX males) that can be used to make all-female stocks, and are currently producing approximately 10,000 all-female fingerlings per year to be reared to commercial harvest in net pens. Since sablefish females grow significantly faster than males, the ability to produce all-female product is a significant commercial advantage for aquaculture.

Future Research

The technologies we’ve developed so far can significantly streamline the production of sablefish from the egg to fingerling stage. However, the growout of sablefish is currently absent in the U.S. In the Puget Sound, available net pen sites are monopolized with the growout of a non-native species, and no new commercial net pens for rearing any finfish aquaculture operations have been approved in Washington state for many decades due largely to a complex and costly regulatory permit approval process.

Future research endeavors could help establish a commercial net pen growout industry for sablefish by tribes in the Puget Sound region. NOAA scientists and partners are in the initial stages of proposing a pilot-scale project by the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, which would provide an initial net pen platform at the NOAA Manchester Research Station. Personnel from the tribe could grow the sablefish to harvest at the Manchester site, and tribal members would be trained in aquaculture production methods. The knowledge and profits derived from the sale of these fish could then be used by the tribe to establish net pen growout for sablefish at other appropriate sites in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Pending funding, the proposal to develop this industry by native, coastal tribal communities could have a significant impact in creating jobs in fishing communities, producing healthful local seafood, revitalizing working waterfronts, and supporting traditional fishing communities.


NOAA’s Manchester Research Station
University of Washington
Troutlodge Sablefish
Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe

Related Links

Northwest Treaty Tribes magazine, Spring 2016 (PDF).

Ocean acidification: are Pacific salmon heading for a nosedive?, Washington Sea Grant Sea Star newsletter, August 2017 (PDF)

Sablefish genetics: near Seattle, scientists look for easier ways to grow the fish, Seattle Times, May 7, 2017.

Fish farming done right can benefit all of us, Opinion, Seattle Times, January 26, 2018.

Related Publications

Lee, J. S., Britt, L. L., Cook, M. A., Wade, T. H., Berejikian, B. A., & Goetz, F. W. (2017). Effect of light intensity and feed density on feeding behaviour, growth and survival of larval sablefish Anoplopoma fimbria. Aquaculture Research 48: 4438-4448.

Goetz, F.W., Jasonowicz, A., and Roberts, S.B. (2018).  What goes up must come down: Diel vertical migration in the deep-water sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) revealed by pop-up satellite archival tags. Fisheries Oceanography DOI: 10.1111/fog.12239 (early view).

Cook, M.A., Lee, J.S.F., Massee, K.M., Wade, T.H. and Goetz, F.W. (2018). Effects of rearing temperature on growth and survival of larval sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria). Aquaculture Research 49:422–430.

Guzmán J.M., Luckenbach J.A., Middleton M.A., Massee K.C., Jensen C., Goetz F.W., Jasonowicz, A.J. and Swanson P. (2017). Reproductive life history of sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) from the U.S. Washington coast. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0184413.

Luckenbach, J.A., Fairgrieve, W.T., Hayman, E.S. (2017). Establishment of monosex female production of sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) through direct and indirect sex control. Aquaculture 479:285-296.

Lee, J.S.F., Cook, M.A., Berejikian, B.A., and Goetz, F.W. (2017). Temporal changes in the suitability of claywater as a greenwater substitute for rearing larval sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria). Aquaculture 470:11–16.

Lee, J.S.F., Cook, M.A., Luckenbach, J.A., Berejikian, B.A., C.A., Simchick, S.M. Oden, and Goetz, F.W. (2017). Investigation of long-term effects of larval rearing temperature on growth, deformities, flesh quality, and phenotypic sex of cultured sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria). Aquaculture 479:91-99.

Jasonowicz, A., Goetz, F. Goetz, G., and Krista, N. (2017). Love the one you're with: Genomic evidence of panmixia in the sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria). Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science.74(3): 377-387.

Fairgrieve, M.R., Shibata, Y., Smith, E.K., Hayman, E.S., Luckenbach, J.A. (2016). Molecular characterization of the gonadal kisspeptin system: cloning, tissue distribution, gene expression analysis and localization in sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria). General and Comparative Endocrinology 225:212-223.

Luckenbach, J.A., Fairgrieve, W.T. (2016). Gonadal sex differentiation and effects of dietary methyltestosterone treatment in sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria). Fish Physiology and Biochemistry 42:233-248.

Lee, J.S.F., Poretsky, R.S., Cook, M.A., Reyes-Tomassini, J.J., Berejikian, B.A., and Goetz, F.W.  (2016). Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) increases survival of larval sablefish, Anoplopoma fimbria. J. Chem. Ecol. 42: 533–536.

Cook, M.A., Massee, K.C., Wade, T.H., Oden, S.M., Jensen C., Jasonowicz, A., Immerman D.A., and Goetz F.W. (2015). Culture of sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) larvae in four experimental tank designs. Aquaculture Engineering 69:43-49.

Immerman, D. and Goetz, FW (2014). The activation and cryopreservation of sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) sperm. Aquaculture 430: 211–217.

Guzmán, J.M., Luckenbach, J.A., Goetz, F.W., Fairgrieve, W.T., Middleton, M.A., Swanson, P. (2015). Reproductive dysfunction in cultured sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria). Bull. Fish. Res. Agen. 40(1):111-119.

Guzmán, J.M., Luckenbach, J.A., da Silva, D.A.M., Ylitalo, G.M., Swanson, P. (2015). Development of approaches to induce puberty in cultured female sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria). General and Comparative Endocrinology 221:101-113.

Smith, E.K., Guzmán, J.M., Luckenbach, J.A. (2013). Molecular cloning, characterization, and sexually dimorphic expression of five major sex differentiation-related genes in a Scorpaeniform fish, sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part B 165:125-137.

Guzmán, J.M., Luckenbach, J.A., Swanson, P. (2013). Molecular characterization and quantification of sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) gonadotropins and their receptors: reproductive dysfunction in female captive broodstock. General and Comparative Endocrinology 193:37-47.

Phillips, R.B., Faber-Hammond, J., Luckenbach, J.A. (2012). The sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) karyotype including the location of 5S and 18S rDNA and information on cell culture conditions. Aquaculture Research 44:1801-1804.


  • View images related to our work on sablefish aquaculture and that includes these 4 images.
  • Watch video of some of our research activities with sablefish at the NOAA Manchester Research Station. (Viewing time: 2 min 53 sec).