Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Conservation Dependent
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Policy Statements and Guidelines Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened fish. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.4 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2011i) [Admin Guideline].
Marine bioregional plan for the Temperate East Marine Region (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012aa) [Admin Guideline].
Marine bioregional plan for the South-west Marine Region (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012z) [Admin Guideline].
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Inclusion of species in the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (38) (09/11/2006) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2006d) [Legislative Instrument].
Scientific name Hoplostethus atlanticus [68455]
Family Trachichthyidae:Beryciformes:Actinopterygii:Chordata:Animalia
Species author Collett, 1889
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Hoplostethus atlanticus

Common name: Orange Roughy

Other names: Deep-sea Perch, Orange Ruff, Red Roughy

The Orange Roughy is a deep-bodied bright red demersal fish with large, rough scales (Stevens 2003). It fades to a pale orange after death (Yearsley et al. 1999). The Orange Roughy can grow to at least 60 cm but is more commonly between 35 and 45 cm in length (Yearsley et al. 1999). The maximum recorded weight is 3.6 kg but it usually weighs between 0.8 and 1.5 kg (Lack et al. 2003; Yearsley et al. 1999).

The Orange Roughy is characterised by a dorsal fin with six spines, the last spine being the longest with 15 to 18 soft rays (flexible, branched and segmented structures that support the fish's fin). It has 19 to 25 weak scutes (bony plates or enlarged, ridged scales) along the belly and an anal fin with three spines and between 10 and 11 rays (Yearsley et al. 1999).
It has a milky white, boneless fillet (Australian Museum 2006; Lack et al. 2003). The fillet is deep, lengthy, tapers sharply and is slightly convex on the top (Yearsley et al. 1999). Orange Roughy flesh is sold after deep-skinning to remove both the skin and layer of oil. The oil is very distinctive, made up of high proportions of wax esters and monounsaturated fatty acids (95%). The oil contains very low levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), approximately 1%, hence contains low levels of omega-3 PUFA (Yearsley et al. 1999). The flesh contains 5.46% total lipids, 93% wax esters and low levels of cholesterol and phospholipids (de Koning 2005).

In Australia, Orange Roughy are found across the southern half of the continent, from central NSW, through to southwestern Australia, including Tasmania (Kailola et al. 1993). They also occur around seamounts and ridges south of Australia and on the South Tasman and Lord Howe rises (DEW 2007a).

The first major Orange Roughy spawning ground was discovered in 1989 off northeastern Tasmania and a summer fishing ground was discovered off southern Tasmania. It was after these two discoveries that Orange Roughy became one of Australia's largest and most valuable fisheries (Koslow et al. 1995).

Most Orange Roughy taken in Commonwealth waters are from 11 discrete management zones in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF). These management zones are (AFMA 2006):

  • North-Eastern Remote Zone
  • East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector
  • Eastern Zone
  • Cascade Plateau Zone
  • Southern Zone
  • Southern Remote Zone
  • South Tasman Rise Zone
  • Western Zone
  • Great Australian Bight Albany and Esperance Zone
  • Great Australian Bight Eastern Zone
  • Great Australian Bight Other Zones.

The Orange Roughy is widely distributed throughout the world and forms dense spawning and feeding aggregations on or near topographic features such as seamounts, canyons and plateaus (AFMA 2006; Branch 2001; Lack et al. 2003). They are found in the cold, deep waters of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans (DEW 2007a). Since the late 1970s the fishery industry for the Orange Roughy has boomed in all countries where it is known to occur. Orange Roughy fisheries have been established off the coast of New Zealand, Namibia, northeast Atlantic, South Indian Ocean and off the coast of Chile (Branch 2001).

The New Zealand Orange Roughy fishery remains the largest in the world, with more varied and numerous fishing grounds than any other regions (Branch 2001). The four largest New Zealand fisheries are the Northeast Chatham Rise, South Chatham Rise, Mid East Coast North Island and Challenger Plateau (Hilborn et al. 2006). The New Zealand fishery was established in the late 1970s (Branch 2001). In the mid 1980s the New Zealand fishery peaked at approximately 50 000 tonnes (t) but has declined to approximately 20 000 t (Tracey & Horn 1999). Australia is the second largest Orange Roughy fishery with peak annual landings of approximately 40 000 t (Tracey & Horn 1999).

The four Namibian Orange Roughy spawning aggregations were discovered in 1994, total catches peaked in 1997 at 15 500 t. Biomasses at these four fishery sites are estimated at below 30% of the virgin biomass and the total allowable catch (TAC) has been reduced from 12 000 t in 1998 to 1875 t in 2000 (Branch 2001).

The South Indian Ocean fishery peaked at 10 000 t in 1999-2000 (Branch 2001). In the northeast Atlantic the Orange Roughy fishery peaked at approximately 5000 t in 1991. Since 1995 annual catches have been less than 100 t (Branch 2001).

The Chilean Orange Roughy fishery is the smallest with a reported catch of 779 t in 1999. A TAC of 1580 t was put into place in 2000 (Branch 2001).

To date there have been no estimates on the global population size of Orange Roughy. The known Orange Roughy fisheries have generally been showing a decline in catch rates indicating that there is a decrease in the size of the populations being fished. Global populations of Orange Roughy are under the same threats as Australian populations with the greatest threat being over fishing (Branch 2001).

There are no current estimates of the total population of Orange Roughy. In Australia, initial estimates of virgin biomass (prior to the commencement of fisheries) was approximately 100 000 tonnes (t). These estimates were based on acoustic and egg surveys (Bruce et al. 2002). Koslow and colleagues (1995) estimate that the population had depleted to 20 to 30% of the initial virgin biomass, depending on the stock structure analysis performed.

The Australian population is thought to be made up of several different stocks, although the stock structure is uncertain as is the relationship between stocks (AFMA 2006). There is some contention over whether separate stocks of Orange Roughy exist. Studies that focused on environmental characteristics of the fish have generally found differences between stocks. However some genetic studies have not found any significant differences among Orange Roughy populations (Branch 2001).

Orange Roughy catch data indicate that there has been a significant decline in Orange Roughy populations in Australia since the establishment of the fishery in the late 1980s. The following table adapted from Smith and Wayte (2004) outlines the catch data (in tonnes) for Orange Roughy catches from 1984 to 2002 in the South East Fishery (SEF).

Western Zone Southern Zone Eastern Zone Cascade Zone Northern Remote Zone Total SEF Outside SEF Total Caught
Year Agreed TAC Alloted TAC Catch Taken Agreed TAC Alloted TAC Catch Taken Agreed TAC Alloted TAC Catch Taken Agreed TAC Alloted TAC Catch Taken Agreed TAC Alloted TAC Catch Taken Total
Best Estimate Total
1984                               186     186
1985                               429     429
1986                               4226     4226
1987                               6196   1 6197
1988                               8469   2794 11 263
1989 NA NA 1376   NA 7620   NA 18 350     260     1 27 607 39 000 3809 42 809
1990 NA NA 579   12 000 24 790   12 000 15 870     1858     216 43 313 61 000 1658 62 658
1991 NA NA 623   12 750 11 540 7500 10 700 9629     40     483 22 315 28 000 529 28 529
1992 1500 1626 1154 8500 8500 7911 1500 8128 7423     484     135 17 107 33 000 969 33 969
1993 1500 1677 1032 10 000 10 582 7683 1500 2039 1957 NA NA 92 NA NA 57 10 821 12 000 1089 13 089
1994 1500 2221 927 5000 7735 4353 2000 1571 1682 NA NA 478 NA NA 128 7568 8300 913 8481
1995 1500 1912 1055 4000 5424 2159 2000 1920 1958 NA NA 82 NA NA 25 5172 5172 1126 6298
1996 1500 1804 1320 3000 4208 802 2000 1940 1998 NA NA 972 NA NA 64 5156 5156 375 5531
1997 1500 1717 352 1000 1813 454 2000 1972 2063 1000 NA 1178 NA NA 119 4166 4166 1858 6024
1998 1500 1833 361 1000 1000 251 2000 1909 1968 1600 NA 1560 NA NA 34 4174 4174 3718 7892
1999 1500 1847 246 700 700 177 2000 1910 1952 1600 NA 1689 NA NA 32 4096 4096 1726 5822
2000 1250 1613 192 700 700 311 2000 1944 1996 1600 NA 1639 NA NA 18 4051 4051 1193 5244
2001 1000 1319 247 560 560 357 1800 1747 1823 1600 1587 1467 NA NA 15 3808 3808 563 4371
2002 500 498 294 420 420 167 1500 1515 1584 1600 1598 1592 NA NA 45 3682 3682 320 4002

Data from this table generally shows a decrease in the amount of Orange Roughy caught in the different management zones of the then South East Fishery. From this data a decrease in Orange Roughy population size can be inferred.

The Southern Zone data demonstrates clearly the decline in Orange Roughy catches since 1989. It also demonstrates that even with the allocation of a TAC of 12 000 t in 1990, a catch of 24 790 t was taken. This indicates that initially, management methods that were imposed were not necessarily followed.

The total number of Orange Roughy caught in the SEF best demonstrates the decline in catches from which a decrease in total population size can be inferred. Since the start of concentrated commercial fishing of Orange Roughy in 1989, there has been a steady decline in the size of catches. The total retained data is thought to be an underestimate of the total number of fish caught as the catch was substantially under-reported or misreported (Smith & Wayte 2004). The peak of Orange Roughy catches of 43 313 t in 1990 was underestimated, with the best estimate of the total catch being 61 000 t. Since that peak in 1991 there has been a marked decline in the total number of Orange Roughy caught in the Orange Roughy fishery zones of the SEF. In 2002, the total retained catch was 3682 t (Smith & Wayte 2004).

Not all Orange Roughy fishery zones have had a decrease in retained catch. Currently there has been no indication of a decline in Cascade Zone catches since 1996. The initial catch in 1990 was made by foreign vessels, and substantial fishing in this zone did not occur again until 1996 (Wayte 2004). Since 1996, Orange Roughy in the Cascade have been fished consistently, subject to a TAC (Wayte 2004) with the retained catch generally being close to the TAC (Smith & Wayte 2004).

A recovery timeframe of 40 to 45 years has been estimated for the Orange Roughy (AFMA 2006).

Given the Orange Roughy's biological characteristics, late maturity and low recruitment relative to stock size, rebuilding rates of Orange Roughy populations will be slow. The cost of achieving any specific rebuilding target will be high due to the proportion of catch reduction which will be required to achieve this goal (Francis & Hilborn 2002). Evidence from a 2002 assessment of Orange Roughy stocks indicate that even with zero fishing, recovery of stocks to their target biomass levels would be very slow (Francis & Hilborn 2002).

The Orange Roughy may be offered some protection if aggregations occur within the Great Australian Bight Marine Park or the Tasmanian Seamounts Marine Reserve (Pogonoski et al. 2002).

The Orange Roughy lives in cold, deep waters in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are most commonly found on the continental slope between 500 and 1400 m (Gomon et al. 2008), but have also been found at depths as shallow as 180 m and as deep as 1800 m (DEW 2007a). The species has also been described as predominantly occurring over steep continental middle and lower slopes, oceanic ridges, and deep water corals (Bruce et al. 2002; UNEP 2004). They are generally found in water with temperatures between 4 to 7ºC (Lack et al. 2003).

The Orange Roughy is found in spawning and feeding aggregations on and around remote seamounts, most notably the South Tasman Rise, Cascade Plateau and Lord Howe Rise (Kailola et al. 1993). Seamounts are mountains found undersea, often of volcanic origin which vary in height and size. Some may only rise 100 m from the seafloor whilst others are greater than 3000 m without breaking the surface of the ocean. It has been estimated that there are more than 100 000 seamounts throughout the world's oceans although only 200 have so far been studied in detail (UNEP 2006). Seamounts are areas of high productivity and endemism. They interact with the oceans around them, making them important hotspots for feeding, breeding and spawning of many deep-sea and open ocean species (UNEP 2006).

The Orange Roughy is found in spawning and feeding aggregations on and around seamounts. Seamounts are mountains found undersea, often of volcanic origin which vary in height and size. Some may only rise 100 m from the seafloor whilst others are greater than 3000 m without breaking the surface of the ocean. It has been estimated that there are more than 100 000 seamounts throughout the world's oceans although only 200 have so far been studied in detail (UNEP 2006). Seamounts are areas of high productivity and endemism. They interact with the oceans around them, making them important hotspots for feeding, breeding and spawning of many deep-sea and open ocean species (UNEP 2006).

The Orange Roughy is long lived, slow to mature and exhibits a low recruitment rate which makes it extremely vulnerable to overfishing (AFMA 2006; Fenton et al. 1991; Smith et al. 1995; UNEP 2006). The Orange Roughy is thought to become sexually mature between 20 to 40 years of age (Branch 2001; DEW 2007a). It has very low fecundity, rarely producing more than 90 000 eggs per female (Morison et al. 2007). There may be a correlation between fish length and fecundity (Clark et al. 1994).

This species is a very long-lived deep sea fish with a longevity of upt to 150 years (DEW 2007a; Koslow et al. 1995). Maximum age has been estimated by otolith (ear bone) zone counts and radio-isotope ratios (Clark et al. 2000 in Lack et al. 2003; DEW 2007a).

Orange Roughy recruitment appears to be highly episodic where recruitment to the adult population may be very low for extended periods of time (Bruce et al. 2002; Koslow et al. 2000). It has been hypothesised that there is an evolutionary link between longevity and recruitment variability (Koslow et al. 2000). Orange Roughy have a very low natural mortality rate, at less than 5% per annum (DEW 2007a; Morison et al. 2007).

It has been hypothesised that the longevity of deep sea fish species may result from altered physiological processes in conditions of low temperature, high pressure, low oxygen concentration and limited food (Cailliet et al. 2001).
The Orange Roughy forms very dense spawning aggregations annually. These spawning aggregations are associated with seamounts, plateaus and canyons (Lack et al. 2003). It is unclear whether these aggregations are driven by environmental factors such as water temperature or phase of the moon and why they are associated with seamounts (AFMA 2006). Orange Roughy are synchronous spawners, shedding eggs and sperm into the water at the same time (Pogonoski et al. 2002). In Australian and New Zealand waters they spawn over a period of two to three weeks in winter. Spawning generally starts in mid July, but can begin as early as June (Branch 2001). Fish are thought to travel up to 200 km to join the spawning aggregations (Francis & Clark 1998). There is evidence that not all of the adult population spawns each year (Kailola et al. 1993). There appears to be a separation of the sexes during spawning with females remaining deeper in the water than males (Branch 2001).

Unfertilised and newly fertilised eggs contain one bright orange oil droplet (Bulman & Koslow 1995). When an egg is removed from a fish or plankton tow, the oil droplet may shatter into smaller globules that get distributed through the yolk mass. If not disturbed the globules coalesce into one droplet after several hours (Bulman & Koslow 1995). The yolk is clear and coarsely segmented (Bulman & Koslow 1995). The diameter of the egg is 2.0 to 2.5 mm (Bulman & Koslow 1995) which is larger than most of the fish species listed by Pauly and Pullin (1988). The eggs are buoyant and rise to a depth of 200 m where most of the egg development occurs before they lose their buoyancy and sink, probably hatching near the seabed (Bulman & Koslow 1995; Zeldis et al. 1995). Under natural conditions, time to hatching has been estimated at 175 hours (7.3 days), but at constant temperatures under test conditions it takes 312 hours (13 days) at 7ºC (Bulman & Koslow 1995). Zeldis and colleagues (1995) determined that eggs incubated at 8ºC, 10ºC and 12ºC hatch at 278 h (11.6 days), 235 h (9.8 days) and 146 h (6.1 days) respectively.

Once hatched, Orange Roughy do not start feeding for about a month (Grimes & Zeldis 1993 as cited in Branch 2001). Young fish, aged betwen one and two years are very rarely encountered during trawling operations and have only been reported in three locations: off the North Island of New Zealand (Gauldie 1998 as cited in Branch 2001); the North Chatham Rise, 50 to 175 km away from the main spawning aggregation (Zeldis et al. 1995) and at the Frankies fishery off the coast of Namibia (B. I. Staalesen pers. comm. as cited in Branch 2001). Orange Roughy are very slow growing with average standard lengths of 3.1, 5.5 and 7.6 cm after one, two and three years respectively for New Zealand Orange Roughy (Mace et al. 1990). Tracey and Horn (1999) indicated that a five year old fish would be approximately 12.4 cm and noted that growth rates varied seasonally being three times greater in summer (January to February) than in winter (late May to early September).

The Orange Roughy is mainly an opportunistic feeder of mesopelagic and benthopelagic prawns, fish and squids. They occasionally feed on mysids, amphipods and euphausiids (Lack et al. 2003). Juvenile Orange Roughy mainly feed on mesopelagic and benthopelagic prawns whereas adults mainly feed on mesopelagic fish and squid. Daily food consumption rates have been estimated to be 0.91% body weight for juveniles and 1.15% body weight for adults (Bulman & Koslow 1992).

The Orange Roughy forms dense feeding aggregations which are targeted by the fishing industry during the non-spawning season (Bruce et al. 2002).

Studies in both Australia and New Zealand concluded that the Orange Roughy does not undergo daily migrations (Bull et al. 2001; Tilzey et al. 1990). Bull and colleagues (2001) noted that there appeared to be some fluctuation in the size of an Orange Roughy spawning aggregation on the Graveyard seamount, in the Chatham Rise fishery off New Zealand. A substantial number of fish appeared to arrive between days two and three of the experiment with a similar number leaving the aggregation during day four. Bull and colleagues (2001) theorise that these fluctuations are a result of ripe fish arriving at the spawning aggregation and spent fish departing, implying that a turnover of spawning fish was occurring. If a turnover was occurring this could affect the ability to survey and measure stock size reliably (Bull et al. 2001).

Francis and Clark (1998) infer that Orange Roughy in New Zealand waters may migrate several hundreds of kilometres to reach spawning aggregations.

Since the Orange Roughy fishery began several surveying methods have been developed. These survey methods include analysing egg production, otolith (ear bone) structure, parasite loading, trace elements in otoliths, morphometric differences and genetic studies (Branch 2001). Acoustic surveys are another method used for assessing stocks (Koslow 1995).

Egg Surveys:

Egg production surveys are used to assess egg development (Bulman & Koslow 1995) and estimate stock size (Koslow et al. 1995). Egg production surveys are considered an effective method of stock assessment for several fishes such as anchovy, sardine and mackerel (Bulman & Koslow 1995). The method is used to estimate biomass from data on annual egg production, mean fecundity, the proportion of females in the spawning aggregation and the male to female ratio of spawners in a particular year (Bulman & Koslow 1995; Koslow et al. 1995). Egg production is estimated from plankton surveys during the spawning period. During the surveys eggs are identified and staged and ages are assigned to each egg stage (Bulman & Koslow 1995). Despite the depth at which Orange Roughy are found, egg production surveys have been a relatively straightforward method to estimate stock size. Koslow and colleagues (1995) infer that this is due to the relatively brief spawning period, the restricted size of the spawning ground, the precise time of spawning and the development of a single batch of eggs characteristic of Orange Roughy populations.

Otolith structure:

Otolith structure has been used to determine the age of Orange Roughy (Mace et al. 1990; Tracey & Horn 1999). Mace and colleagues (1990) studied otolith structure of an Orange Roughy population on the north Chatham Rise off the coast of New Zealand. The study focused on analysing distinct growth zones and correlating these to length-frequency. The majority of the otoliths analysed were from fish with a standard length (SL) of less than 10 cm. The distinct growth zones that were analysed were hyaline (clear) rings which are seen in Orange Roughy otoliths. Hyaline rings that were on the edges of the otoliths were not included in the counts. Mace and colleagues (1990) concluded that these clear rings in the otoliths were laid down annually and could be used to measure Orange Roughy growth. These rings can be measured reliably up to seven counts after which point interpretation becomes more uncertain (Tracey & Horn 1999).

Radiometric analysis:

Otolith chemical analysis has been used to provide identify and differentiate different Orange Roughy stocks in the South-West Pacific Ocean. Thresher and Proctor (2007) analysed the composition of trace elements in otolith primordia (rudimentary stage) to differentiate Orange Roughy stocks. The study analysed levels of five elements, Strontium (Sr), Lead (Pb), Copper (Cu), Zinc (Zn) and Mercury (Hg). Thresher and Proctor (2007) concluded that Sr was the only element that could be used to provide useful information on stock structure. The results from this study confirm previous results from parasite loading and demographics that Orange Roughy populations are spatially structured (Thresher & Proctor 2007).

Acoustic surveys:

Kloser and colleagues (1996) completed acoustic surveys of Orange Roughy to estimate absolute biomass of spawning aggregations off southeastern Australia. Acoustic survey accuracy, in both deep sea and shallow waters, is affected by variation in biological parameters of stock distribution, migration, species composition, timing and target strength (Kloser et al. 1996). Surveys of deep water fish are further affected by weather conditions, acoustic reduction from near-surface air bubbles, ship motion, uncertainties in the sound absorption constant and beam thresholding (Do & Coombs 1989; Kloser et al. 1996). Surveying of Orange Roughy is further complicated due to its association with seamount slopes which cause the acoustic beams to reverberate and create a large acoustic shadow zone. The shadow zone can make fish at greater depths indistinguishable from the bottom echo (Kloser et al. 1996). Orange Roughy have swim bladders filled with wax esters rather than air which lowers its target strength to acoustic surveys (Koslow 1995). These issues can be overcome if the acoustic transducer is deployed on a deeply towed body (Kloser et al. 1996).

From the acoustic survey, absolute biomass of the Orange Roughy stock prior to fishing in 1989 was estimated at 98 200 t with a 6.7% coefficient of variation. This is comparable to the results from an egg production survey done by Koslow and colleagues (1995), who estimated the virgin biomass to be 96 900 t (47% coefficient of variation) based on catch history of the eastern Tasmania fishery.


Tagging studies could be used to resolve the debates over the age, growth and stock structure of Orange Roughy (Branch 2001). Tagging of deep sea fish is difficult as they suffer from barotrauma (trauma due to sudden changes in pressure) when they are brought to the surface which often results in death during capture (Branch 2001; Cailliet et al. 2001).

Combination of methods:

Smith and colleagues (2002) used five techniques to determine stock relationships between four spatially isolated but geographically close Orange Roughy fisheries in the Eastern Taman Sea. The techniques included measuring life history traits (age and length at maturity), population length frequency, otolith shape, genetic markers and comparison of spawning times (Smith et al. 2002).

Commercial trawling:

The Orange Roughy's biological characteristics result in the species having very low resilience to fishing as the likelihood of being caught prior to reproduction is much higher in comparison to other fish species (DEW 2007a). Commercial trawling has been identified as a key threat to Orange Roughy populations (DEW 2007a; Pogonoski et al. 2002). Commercial trawling has a negative impact on Orange Roughy populations by directly reducing stock numbers and potentially reducing population numbers through degradation of habitats (Edgar et al. 2005; Pogonoski et al. 2002).

Species interaction:

Although little is known about the trophic (food chain) interactions of Orange Roughy, it is likely that any reductions in Orange Roughy biomass will have impacts on the species on which they feed and which feed on them (Bruce et al. 2002). Surveys in New Zealand have shown declines in a number of species associated with the Orange Roughy, either directly through by-catch or indirectly through trophic or habitat interactions (Clark et al. 2000 as cited in DEWHA 2008a). It is unknown what the implications and extent are of Orange Roughy being caught as by-catch in fisheries targeting other species occurring in similar habitats (DEWHA 2008a).

Habitat damage:

Commercial bottom trawling on seamounts severely affects benthic fauna either through physical damage or through by-catch. One of the main by-catch species caught during commercial trawling are cold water corals; the loss of these corals leads to habitat degradation (UNEP Press release 2004). Due to the importance of seamounts to the spawning of Orange Roughy, it has been hypothesised that habitat damage from commercial trawling may affect recruitment of Orange Roughy (DEWHA 2008a). The Orange Roughy Conservation Programme includes a prohibition on targeted fishing in known aggregation areas over seamounts to minimise the potential for habitat destruction and disturbance (AFMA 2006).


Other threats that may affect deep water corals and the fish that associate with them are impacts from oil and gas exploration, laying down of cables and telecommunications links and waste disposal (UNEP press release 2004).

During the 1980s and 1990s, large catches of Orange Roughy were made prior to the stocks being given protection. However, since the 1990s, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) in association with industry has managed the Orange Roughy to reduce catch levels with the creation of management zones and the number of total allowable catches (TACs) set annually. The Orange Roughy Conservation Programme was established with the aim to protect Orange Roughy from over fishing (DEW 2007a).

The Orange Roughy Conservation Programme has been established to ensure that the Orange Roughy does not become vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 within a period of five years (AFMA 2006). The Orange Roughy is considered overfished in several management zones within the South East Scale and Shark Fishery. The risk of future listing under a higher category of the EPBC Act 1999 depends principally on the recovery of Orange Roughy populations in these management zones (AFMA 2006).

The objective of the Orange Roughy Conservation Programme is "to conserve Orange Roughy to ensure its long term survival in nature and recover the species to ecologically sustainable levels" (AFMA 2006).

The following requirements of the programme will need to be met as outlined in the Orange Roughy Conservation Programme (AFMA 2006):

  • Maintain the spawning biomass of Orange Roughy on the Cascade Plateau at or above the target level of 60% of the virgin biomass, with a probability of 50%, so as not to impact further on the recovery of depleted populations;
  • In the known overfished zones, reduce the take of Orange Roughy; and
  • In the zones where the status of Orange Roughy is unknown, ensure any future development is conducted in an ecologically sustainable manner.

Orange Roughy progress under the Orange Roughy Conservation Programme will be monitored by the following three approaches (AFMA 2006):

  • High precision multi-frequency surveys performed at regular intervals that are recommended by a statistical investigation of the sampling precision and recovery times. Ideally these surveys would occur at five year intervals.
  • Low precision surveys are conducted at statistically determined intervals to observe stock movement distribution.
  • Otoliths (ear bones) are collected at three to five year intervals for ageing.

The preservation of high levels of spawning biomass relative to the virgin spawning biomass can maintain recruitment at a level similar to the virgin biomass. Hence if biomass is maintained at high levels relative to virgin biomass differences in recruitment may be negligible. If there is limited target take for healthy populations of Orange Roughy, there should be a low risk to any role recruitment from healthy populations may play in the recovery of depleted populations (AFMA 2006).

Under the Orange Roughy Conservation Programme fishing below 750 m will be prohibited in the Great Australian Bight Trawling Sector (GABTS) and fishing below 700 m will be prohibited in the North-Eastern Remote Zone of the SESSF (AFMA 2006).

The Orange Roughy Assessment Group was established in 1997 to monitor and assess Orange Roughy populations; it was replaced in 2004 with the Deepwater Assessment Group (Morison et al. 2007).

A key consideration in the management of Orange Roughy fisheries is the size of pre-fished biomass (B0). Initial estimates of B0 often over-estimated the size of the resource (Lack et al. 2003). Acoustic surveys provide a reasonably accurate estimate of the current biomass size and can be used to provide an estimate of the size of pre-fished biomass. However, other parameters such as stock structure, natural mortality and the extent of the Orange Roughy fishery remain uncertain leading to uncertainty in stock assessment results (Lack et al. 2003).

In Australia there are several different management methods in place to monitor Orange Roughy stocks. Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and Individually Transferable Quotas (ITQs) have been put into place to monitor catches and population sizes. Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) are required on all vessels fishing for Orange Roughy (Lack et al. 2003). Since 2002, AFMA has reduced TACs for Orange Roughy in response to scientific assessment advice to significantly reduce overfishing mortality (AFMA 2006).

A bilateral agreement between Australia and New Zealand was put into place to monitor the South Tasman Rise straddling fish stocks (Lack et al. 2003). The fishery is a limited entry 'international' fishery and is managed with a competitive TAC (Morison & Tilzey 2007). However, conflicts between the parties and fishing by States that were not a part of the agreement resulted in this fishery becoming commercially unviable after five years (Lack et al. 2003). Orange Roughy in the South Tasman Rise are classified as overfished (Morison & Tilzey 2007). It is uncertain whether overfishing has been stopped by reduced TACs in the case of the South Tasman Rise fishery (Morison & Tilzey 2007).

Marine bioregional plans have been developed for four of Australia's marine regions - South-west, North-west, North and Temperate East. Marine Bioregional Plans will help improve the way decisions are made under the EPBC Act, particularly in relation to the protection of marine biodiversity and the sustainable use of our oceans and their resources by our marine-based industries. Marine Bioregional Plans improve our understanding of Australia's oceans by presenting a consolidated picture of the biophysical characteristics and diversity of marine life. They describe the marine environment and conservation values of each marine region, set out broad biodiversity objectives, identify regional priorities and outline strategies and actions to address these priorities. Click here for more information about marine bioregional plans.

The orange roughy has been identified as a conservation value in the South-west (DSEWPaC 2012z) and Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) marine regions. See Schedule 2 of the South-west Marine Bioregional Plan (DSEWPaC 2012z) and the Temperate East Marine Bioregional Plan (DSEWPaC 2012aa) for regional advice. The "species group report card - bony fishes" for the South-west (DSEWPaC 2012z) and Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) marine regions provide additional information.

Fishery Status Reports provide an annual review of Australian and international fish stocks managed or co-managed by the Australian Government.

Tracey and Horn (1999) present a comprehensive overview of some of the methods used to assess Orange Roughy stocks in different fisheries.

Branch (2001) provides a comprehensive overview of Orange Roughy fisheries throughout the world. This review outlines the different surveying methods to assess and estimate stock structure as well as the biology of the Orange Roughy.

Lack and colleagues (2003) present a thorough overview of the risks and uncertainties in deep-sea fisheries using the Orange Roughy as an example.

The Conservation Overview and Action Plan for Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes and the Orange Roughy Conservation Programme provide guides to the conservation and management strategies for the Orange Roughy (AFMA 2006; Pogonoski et al. 2002).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Uncategorised:Uncategorised:threats not specified Hoplostethus atlanticusin Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006nn) [Internet].

Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) (2006). Orange Roughy Conservation Programme. [Online]. Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Available from:

Australian Museum (2006). Orange Roughy Hoplostethus atlanticus. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 27-May-2008].

Branch, T.A. (2001). A Review of Orange Roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) Fisheries, Estimation Methods, Biology and Stock Structure. Payne, A. I. L., S. C. Pillar & R. J. M. Crawford, eds. A Decade of Namibian Fisheries Science. South African Journal of Marine Science. 23:181 - 203.

Bruce, B.D., R. Bradford, R. Daley, M. Green & K. Phillips (2002). Targeted Review of Biological and Ecological Information from Fisheries Research in the South East Marine Region. Final Report to the National Oceans Office. [Online]. CSIRO Marine Research, Hobart. Available from: [Accessed: 05-Jun-2008].

Bull, B., I. Doonan, D. Tracey & A. Hart (2001). Diel variation in spawning orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus, Trachichthyidae) abundance over a seamount feature on the north-west Chatham Rise. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 35:435-444.

Bulman, C.M. & J.A. Koslow (1992). Diet and food consumption of a deep-sea fish, orange roughy Hoplostethus atlanticus (Pisces: Trachichthyidae), off southeastern Australia. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 82:115-129.

Bulman, C.M. & J.A. Koslow (1995). Development and Depth Distribution of the Eggs of Orange Roughy, Hoplostethus atlanticus (Pisces: Trachichthyidae). Marine Freshwater Research. 46:697 - 705.

Cailliet, G.M., A.H. Andrews, E.J. Burton, D.L. Watters, D.E. Kline & L.A. Ferry-Graham (2001). Age determination and validation studies of marine fishes: do deep-dwellers live longer?. Experimental Gerontology. 36:739-764.

Clark, M.R., D.J. Fincham & D.M. Tracey (1994). Fecundity of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) in New Zealand Waters. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 28:193-200.

de Koning, J.A. (2005). Phospholipids of marine origin: the orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus). South African Journal of Science. 101:414-416.

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC) (2011i). Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened fish. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.4 . [Online]. EPBC Act policy statement. Canberra, ACT: DSEWPAC. Available from:

Department of the Environment and Water Resources (DEW) (2007a). Draft East Marine Bioregional Plan: Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the East Marine Region.

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) (2008a). The South-West Marine Bioregional Plan: Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the South-West Marine Region. [Online]. Canberra: DEWHA. Available from:

Do, M.A. & R.F. Coombs (1989). Acoustic measurements of the population of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) on the north Chatham Rise, New Zealand, in winter 1986. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 23:225-237.

Edgar, G.J., C.R. Samson & N.S. Barrett (2005). Species Extinction in the Marine Environment: Tasmania as a Regional Example of Overlooked Losses in Biodiversity. Conservation Biology. 19 (4):1294-1300.

Fenton, G.E., S.A. Short & D.A. Ritz (1991). Age determination of orange roughy, Hoplostethus atlanticus (Pisces: Trachichthyidae) using 210Pb:226Ra disequilibria. Marine Biology. 109:197-202.

Francis, C. & R. Hilborn (2002). Review of the 2002 Australian Orange Roughy Stock. [Online]. Canberra, Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Available from:

Francis, R.I.C.C. & M.R. Clark (1998). Inferring spawning migrations of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) from spawning ogives. Marine Freshwater Research. 49:103-108.

Gomon, M.F., D.J. Bray & R. Kuiter (2008). Fishes of Australia’s southern coast. Reed New Holland, Australia.

Hilborn, R., J. Annala & D.S. Holland (2006). The cost of overfishing and management strategies for new fisheries on slow-growing fish: Orange Roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) in New Zealand. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 63:2149-2153.

Kailola, P.J., M.J. Williams, P.C. Stewart, R.E. Reichelt, A. McNee & C. Grieve (1993). Australian Fisheries Resources. Canberra: Department of Primary Industries and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Bureau of Rural Sciences.

Kloser, R.J., J.A. Koslow & A. Williams (1996). Acoustic Assessment of the Biomass of a Spawning Aggregation of Orange Roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus, Collett) off South-eastern Australia, 1990-93. Marine Freshwater Research. 47:1015-1024.

Koslow, A. (1995). Quiet Revolution in the Deep. Australian Fisheries. 54 (6):17-18.

Koslow, J.A., C.A. Bulman, J.M. Lyle & K.A. Haskard (1995). Biomass Assessment of a Deep-water Fish, the Orange Roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus), based on an Egg Survey. Marine Freshwater Research. 46:819-830.

Koslow, J.A., G.W. Boehlert, J.D.M. Gordon, R.L. Haedrich, P. Lorance & N. Parin (2000). Continental slope and deep-sea fisheries: Implications for a fragile ecosystem. ICES Journal of Marine Science. 57:548-557.

Lack, M., K. Pollard & A. Willcock (2003). Managing Risk and Uncertainty in Deep-Sea Fisheries: Lessons from Orange Roughy. [Online]. TRAFFIC Oceania and WWF Australia. Available from: [Accessed: 27-May-2008].

Mace, P.M., J.M. Fenaughty, R.P. Coburn & I.J. Doonan (1990). Growth and productivity of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) on the north Chatham Rise. New Zealand Journal of Freshwater and Marine Research. 24:105-119.

Morison, A., R. Tilzey & K. McLoughlin (2007). Commonwealth Trawl and Scalefish-Hook Sectors. Larcombe, J., and K. McLoughlin, eds. Fishery Status Reports 2006: Status of Fish Stocks Managed by the Australian Government. Page(s) 111-160. [Online]. Canberra, Bureau of Rural Sciences. Available from:

Pauly, D. & R.S.V. Pullin (1988). Hatching time in spherical, pelagic, marine fish eggs in response to temperature and egg size. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 22(4):261-271.

Pogonoski, J.J., D.A. Pollard & J.R. Paxton (2002). Conservation Overview and Action Plan for Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia. Available from:

Smith, A.D.M. & S.E. Wayte (2004). The South East Fishery 2003, Fishery Assessment Report. [Online]. Canberra, Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Available from:

Smith, D.C., S.G. Robertson, G.E. Fenton & S.A. Short (1995). Age determination and growth of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus): a comparison of annulus counts with radiometric ageing. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences . 52:391-401.

Smith, P.J., S.G. Robertson, P.L. Horn, B. Bull, O.F. Anderson, B.R. Stanton & C.S. Oke (2002). Multiple techniques for determining stock relationships between orange roughy, Hoplostethus atlanticus, fisheries in the eastern Tasman Sea. Fisheries Research. 58:119-140.

Stevens, M.M. (2003). Seafood Watch, Seafood Report: Orange Roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus). Final Report, 28 March 2003. [Online]. Monterey Bay Aquarium. Available from:

Thresher, R.E. & C.H. Proctor (2007). Population structure and life history of Orange Roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) in the SW Pacific: inferences from otolith chemistry. Marine Biology. 152:461-473.

Tilzey, R.D.J., M. Zann-Schuster, N.L. Klaer & M.J. Williams (1990). The South East Trawl Fishery: Biological synopses & catch distributions for seven major commercial fish species. Canberra, Bureau of Rural Resources.

Tracey, D.M. & P.L. Horn (1999). Background and review of ageing orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus, Trachichthyidae) from New Zealand and elsewhere. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 33:67-86.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2006). Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Deep Waters and High Seas. UNEP Regional Seas Reports and Studies No. 178. UNEP/IUCN, Switzerland.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Press release (8 June) (2004). Cold-Water Corals Abound, as do Threats. Environment (Sep 2004). 46 (7):5.

Wayte, S. (2004). Stock assessment of the Cascade Plateau orange roughy. [Online]. Deepwater Assessment Group (DAG), CSIRO Marine Research. Available from:

Yearsley, G.K., P.R. Last & R.D. Ward (1999). Australian Seafood Handbook: an Identification Guide to Domestic Species. Hobart, CSIRO Marine Research.

Zeldis, J.R., P.J. Grimes & J.K.V. Ingerson (1995). Ascent rates, vertical distribution, and a thermal history model of development of orange roughy, Hoplostethus atlanticus, eggs in the water column. Fishery Bulletin. 93(2):373-385.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Hoplostethus atlanticus in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Fri, 22 Aug 2014 10:32:47 +1000.