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The orange roughy is a deep sea dwelling ocean fish found in the South Pacific around Australia and New Zealand. In the 1970s, advanced deep sea fishing techniques made the species accessible to the commercial market, which quickly embraced the delicately flavored, firm fleshed fish. After peaking in the 1980s, fish catches began to decline, and the orange roughy almost vanished from existence before extensive management techniques brought stocks into slow recovery. It is considered to be a severely threatened fish.
Orange roughy can live to be over 100 years old, and weigh approximately 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) at maturity. The fish are shockingly ugly, and a dull brick red in color when alive that fades to orange after death. They have protruding jaws, foreshortened bodies, and stumpy fins. Like most deep sea dwelling fish, orange roughy take a long time to grow to maturity, and are easy to threaten with overfishing. Extensive deep sea fishing for over two decades resulted in severe depletion of adult stocks. These fish do not generally breed until they reach 30 years of age.
Because of its conservation status, it is recommended that no one consume orange roughy until the fish has had an opportunity to recover from ecologically unsound fishing methods. In addition, like many dense-fleshed fishes, it accumulates a great deal of mercury and should not be eaten by pregnant women and children. Other consumers would be wise to limit their intake to two or three servings a month at maximum.
In addition to having dense white flesh, orange roughy also have copious amounts of oil that can be used in a variety of applications including cosmetics and nutritional supplements. Fisheries for the species have emerged in New Zealand, Australia, and Namibia. The catch peaks in the months of June through August, when the fish are spawning in dense groups.
In addition to depleting the populations of imperfectly understood deep sea fish, commercial drag net fishing is also highly damaging to the marine environment and ocean floor. Trawling disturbs marine sediment, which provides habitat and nutrition to countless species. In addition, numerous fish in addition to the target species are caught in trawling nets and thrown back, usually dead.
Australia and New Zealand have both embarked on conservation programs to preserve the orange roughy, and consumers should purchase fish from these sources if at all. Both programs have enforced quotas, and prosecute illegal harvest of the fish. Scientists are evaluating each fishery for viability and potential fishing potential. A total ban on the fish was pondered in the early part of the 21st century to allow the fish to recover.