Sablefish (Black cod)

The Science

Although commonly called “black cod”, this fish is not related to cod family, it is one of only two species in its own family.

The Fishery

While only recently gaining popularity, U.S. and Canadian fishermen have been harvesting this sablefish since the late 1800’s [5]

The Seafood

Sablefish was an ingredient in the “Larry David Sandwich” in an episode of the HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 5, Episode 1) [15]

The Science

Taxonomic description

  • Also known as black cod, butterfish.
  • In the family Anoplopomatidae.
  • Superficially resembles members of the cod family (Gadidae) but is not related.
  • Long; dark gray to black on upper half of body, lighter gray on the lower half[ 1].
  • Has separate dorsal fins; these are used to tell it apart from its relative skilfish[1]
  • Can grow up to 1 m (3 ft) and weigh up to 25 kg (55 lb).


  • Found along the northeastern Pacific Ocean from northern Mexico to Alaska [1]
  • Most commonly found in Alaska 
  • There are two populations in eastern Pacific, Northern and Southern [2]
  • Also found in the western north Pacific.

Life history

  • Long-lived species with 40 yr old fish commonly caught
  • Some known to live 90 years or more [2]
  • Reproduces March – April in Alaska; January – March in California to British Columbia [2]
  • Spawning and early egg development occurs in deeper water 
  • Hatched larvae swim to surface waters to feed on small zooplankton
  • Juveniles remain inshore until age 2 and begin to migrate to deeper water
  • Fully mature around ages 5-7 yr [1,3]


  • Lives on the ocean bottom at depths 200 m (650) feet and deeper. 
  • Some found down to 3000 m (9800 ft)[2]
  • Smaller juvenile fish live near the surface close to the coast.


The Fishery

Seasonal availability

  • Year-round with lower catch limits during the winter months (spawning season) [4]

Managing authority

  • Managed jointly by the California Dept of Fish & Wildlife, NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fisheries Management Council [iv,v]
  • Covered under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan, which defines coast-wide catch limits for fishing groups & gear types, daily trip limits, individual fishing quotas, & observer coverage amounts [5, 7]

Gear type

  • Primarily fixed gear (baited longlines & baited traps) [5, 7], where traps are submerged ~0.5 mile deep and emptied after 3-4 days [6] 
  • Occasionally bottom trawls [7], which are used for various deepwater species [5]

Status of the fishery

  • NMFS Fish Stock Sustainability Index classifies the stock as a “4” out of 4, reflecting that the stock has known status, is not overfished or subject to overfishing, and maintains a biomass at or above maximum sustainable yield. [5]
  • Classified as a “Good Alternative” by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Fish Watch” (would be “Best Choice” if ranked using only fixed gear, not trawling) [9]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Impact of commercial fishing efforts on sablefish habitat are minimal & temporary [5]
  • Bottom trawls often catch unintended species, however many of these are collected for human consumption [5]
  • Bycatch is reduced across all gear types through catch reporting per the West Coast Groundfish Trawl Catch Share Program.

The Seafood

Edible portions

  • Also known as black cod or butterfish
  • Sold headed and gutted, as fillets or steaks

Description of meat

  • Commonly known as the “butterfish” because of its rich, mild flavor and velvety texture [11,12]
  • Meat consists of large, delicate flakes that melt in your mouth

Culinary uses

  • To fillet, check out eHow food ( [13]
  • Common preparations include baked, broiled. grilled, sautéed, smoked, steamed, sushi
  • The fat makes it difficult to overcook the fish
  • Key Preparation Note: Has large pin bones that run along the center of the fish, so make sure to remove these before preparing 
  • Some popular recipes include miso-glazed black cod, black cod in tomato stew, olive oil poached black cod with lemons and capers, pan-roasted fish with Thai curry sauce, glazed cod with asparagus and mushrooms, and Miso seafood stew [14]

Nutritional information  

  • Cooked dry heat, ½ fillet (5.3 oz) [10]
  • High in protein (52% DV), niacin (39% DV), and selenium (101% DV) [10]

Toxicity report

  • There are no known contaminants

Seasonal availability

  • Available year-round in San Diego


[1] ADGF. Alaska Department of Fish and Game  - Sablefish - Available:

[2] NOAA Fish Watch. Fish Watch and Seafood Profiles - Sablefish - Available:

[3] California Dept. Fish & Wildlife, Status of the fishery - Sablefish - Available:

[4] Stewart, I.J., J.T. Thorson, C. Wetzel. 2011. Status of the U.S. Sablefish Resource in 2011. National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA. 29 July 2013.>.

[5] NOAA. 2013. Sablefish. FishWatch: U.S. Seafood Facts. NOAA, n.d. 29 July 2013.;

[6] "About Philip Harris." Sea Nag. Blogger, Aug. 2011. Web. 29 July 2013.

[7] McKnight, C. and  R. Leos. 2008. Sablefish, Anoplopoma fimbria. 2008 Status of the Fisheries. California Dept of Fish & Wildlife, Web. 26 July 2013.

[8] NMFS. 2008. 2008 Status of the Fisheries. National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA. 26 July 2013.

[9] Monterey Bay Aquarium. Seafood Watch: West Coast Consumer Guide Fall/Winter 2013. Print.'

[10]  SELF nutrition data. 2013.  “Fish, sablefish, cooked, dry heat”.

[11] "Sablefish." FishWatch: U.S. Seafood Facts. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 20 May 2013. Web. 10 Aug 2013.

[12]  “Sablefish." Seafood Watch. Monterey Bay Aquarium, n.d. Web. 10 Aug 2013.

[13]  eHow food. 2013. How to fillet sablefish.

[14] “Black Cod Sablefish Recipes.” Yummly.

[15]  Wikipedia. 2013.