Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"They Actually Eat That:" Orange Roughy.

If you live near any big city, there is a fine chance that there is an aquarium near you. Aquariums tend to have handy little pocket guides for what seafood is safe and sustainable and what is not. If you can get a hold of such a chart, I can promise you this fellow will be on the "avoid" list. Not the guy, the fish:


The fish above is an orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus). It is a deep-sea fish, much like the anglerfish and other glowing creatures. The red-orange color comes from eating crustaceans, just like with pink flamingoes. It is also called a "slimehead" or "deepsea perch." "Slimehead"- what a lovely name. It makes "roughy" sound appealing by comparison. 

Here's the kicker: every single orange roughy is wild-caught. Certain restaurants might even market this fact. There are no orange roughy farms, yet tilapia and salmon pile themselves upon grocery shelves. It seems to be a fairly popular fish, so why hasn't anybody tried to farm them?

Here's a little-known facet of what makes an animal good for domestication: the reproductive age must be equal to or less than that of a human. Humans start becoming reproductively-capable in their teens; most pet and farm animals take two years, if that, until they are ready to reproduce. The orange roughy takes anywhere from thirty-three years to fifty. 

Yes, this popular food fish takes fifty years to become sexually mature. Anyone who wanted to breed orange roughy would be in for a very long wait. Even if someone possessed that amazing level of dedication, they would not be able to keep up with the demand for this fish. The orange roughy on one's plate could be around 150 years old - most humans do not live that long. No wonder the stocks around Australia and New Zealand are depleted -  they're trying to feed creatures that multiply like rodents. Never mind the mercury; orange roughy is on that "avoid" list for a very good reason.

Personal preference time:I have tried orange roughy, unsustainable though it may be. I absolutely love this fish. It ranks up there with halibut and certain forms of salmon as one of my favorite food fish. Aside from sweets, this fish is among my guiltiest of guilty pleasures. Now I'm going to feel even guiltier about ordering it at a certain Greek restaurant.

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