Fish Friday: Acadian Redfish – Consume Regularly for a Healthy Ocean

A Floral Fish?
I must admit, it was a lovely little nickname of the Acadian redfish (Sebastes fasciatus) that drew me to feature this cool creature – “rosefish.” While they most certainly do not stay true to this name in odor, they make up for it in color. Redfish range from pale yellow to bright red, much like their floral namesake.
Acadian Redfish
Acadian redfish – a rosey-hued deep sea dweller. Image via NOAA Fishwatch.

You may also recognize redfish by the name “ocean perch,” but they are not, in fact, perch (genus Perca); they are actually rockfish (genus Sebastes). Literally, these guys love rocks…and mud, and clay. Basically, they love bottom substrates.

In the Gulf of Maine, redfish most commonly live at depths up to 975 feet. Juveniles are often found hanging out around deep sea corals such as Primnoa. The corals serve as nursery grounds that provide shelter and an array of delicious invertebrates for the juveniles to snack on. As they mature, they begin to feed on larger invertebrates and small fish.
Redfish and Primnoa
A redfish hangs out under some Primnoa. Image via NOAA Fishwatch.

Military-Grade Protein

Unlike cod and haddock, redfish weren’t always a crowd favorite. But in the 1930s, food freezing technology was developed, and the market for frozen redfish quickly arose. The fish were readily abundant and easily distributed in frozen form, making them a perfect source of protein for the U.S. military in the 1940s and 1950s. Unfortunately, by the mid-1980s, heavily-exploited redfish stocks reached an all-time low.

Around this time, scientists determined that redfish have sensitive biological characteristics that make them particularly vulnerable to overfishing: slow growth rates, low reproductive rates, late sexual maturity, and long lifespans. Taking these factors into consideration, fishery managers imposed strict regulations on fishing gear, catch limits, and fishing areas for Acadian redfish. By June 2012, the stock was declared fully recovered. The population is now estimated to be at 32% above the target population – a true fisheries management success story!

Changing Gear and Changing Mindsets

Redfish populations may be thriving, but neither fishermen nor consumers have been paying them much attention. In 2010, only about 23% of the total allowable Gulf of Maine total allowable catch was harvested. Add to that the fact that most of the GOM harvest was used as lobster bait, and you have a seriously underutilized species on your hands!

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Cooperative Research took action to help the redfish fishery reach its full potential. Fishermen joined government officials, scientists and researchers, and other industry leaders for REDNET, a collaborative effort to “efficiently harvest the redfish resource in the Gulf of Maine while avoiding non-target catch” (NOAA Fishwatch).

Redfish grow up to 20 inches, but they have a flattened shape. Although still a victim to bycatch, their narrow bodies sometimes allow them to slip through standard 6.5 inch mesh groundfish nets. In March 2011, REDNET partners tested a 4.5 inch mesh on five commercial trips in the Gulf of Maine. According to the April 2012 Completion Report, the smaller mesh was extremely effective; the trips harvested commercial levels of redfish without significant levels of bycatch, which had been the fear.

After the successful demonstration of the 4.5 inch mesh, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) passed a rule allowing trawlers to use the smaller mesh only when targeting redfish (catch must be 80 percent redfish). With regulations in place, fishermen just need the incentive to commercially harvest redfish; they need to see that there is a market for their catch, that consumers are demanding the species.

Mmmm…..redfish

Remember how we talked about silver hake, another underappreciated GOM species? How the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) is running Out of the Blue to elevate consumer awareness and make under-loved GOM species profitable for fishermen to target? The Acadian redfish is in the same boat (pun intended!). GMRI is working with chefs, restaurants, and institutions to rebuild demand and create a market for redfish. Think: providing sustainable seafood information to culinary partners, rewarding restaurants that practice marine resource stewardship, and hosting a Seafood Dining Series to educate consumers. They want to give overfished populations, such as cod, a break by promoting more abundant alternatives. Maple miso redfish, anyone?

It keeps getting better. Acadian redfish are available year round; they’re low in saturated fat, calories, and mercury; and they’re good sources of calcium, protein, phosphorus, selenium, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. So next time you’re craving fish tacos, make them spicy redfish tacos a delicious choice that’s good for the ocean and good for you.

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