Komodo Dragon of the Sea: Fish names that hide the truth

Two features describe the deep oceans of our planet. Dark and cold (4℃ or 39.2 ℉ )

Light from the surface never reaches this realm and deep ocean currents keep the sun’s heat from the depths.

Credit: NIWA, New Zealand/CenSeam, Census of Marine Life

Life crawls, creeps, plods and paddles here. No stream-lined tunas of the surface stir these waters.
Depth gives way to emptiness compared to the surface, where abundance used to reign –

Before we fished it out.

But there are still fish in the deep.
For how long? We don’t know. Commercial fishing introduced fish from the deep to restaurant plates tables in 1980.
Served as specialities they have a huge customer following. Maybe fewer would want to eat these deep-sea fish – if they knew their real names.

Take a look at this story:

“Roast lamb”, was my thought, as I entered the restaurant and squeezed between the intimate tables, wrapped round a brick fireplace complete with roaring fire – typical of a Manhattan bistro in December. I sat in the chair pulled out for me by my dinner companion and sank into the mood of the evening.

White clothed, low lit, and odors that melted my palette – this room spoke of a delight yet to come. But I wasn’t here for the roast lamb. This restaurant’s speciality was the fish.

I sipped the wine after the maitre de left our table having poured our choice into glasses. A delicate Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Young but sassy. Perfect with fish.

The waiter approached. White serving cloth draped his left forearm and said, “May I tell you the specialties of the day?”

Seeing two nods, he continued, “Very well then…I can tempt you with a fillet of…” he hesitated,

“Slimemouth. The flavor is delicate, but full. This fish is our speciality today, flown fresh from the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand.”

“Don’t you mean Orange Roughy?” I said,

Orange Roughy

Orange Roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) http://seafood.edf.org/orange-roughy)

“Yes, that is its other name,” said the waiter.

“Thanks no. That fish is an endangered species.”

The waiter maybe used to nature loving East Coasters said , “Alright then…perhaps, some Patagonian Toothfish?”

Chilean seabass 600x212

I took out my iPhone. Swiped to the Seafood Watch app from Monterey Bay Aquarium to check the status of the Patagonian Toothfish.
In deep-ocean fisheries, changes in the status of a species can be rapid, altering day to day. The app keeps me updated.
Allows me to give you, the reader, better information.

“Do you know where the Toothfish, also called the Chilean Sea Bass, was caught?” I asked.

“I believe, Chile,” the waiter said consulting his notes, which impressed me. Most waiters have to go and ask the Chef. This guy was sharp.

Consulting the seafoodwatch app, I read that Chilean Sea Bass was sustainably fished only if caught either at Macquarie, Falkland, or in the Heard or McDonald Islands. All in the southwest Atlantic Ocean. But not from Chile.

I didn’t lecture the waiter. Get him in trouble, just because he told the truth. Called the fish by their real names. But I might have a word with the proprietor about where he sourced his fish…something anyone can do. You don’t have to be a fish doctor.

I said, “No thank you to the Chilean Sea Bass”.

No reaction, just an,”I see. Well then, what you would like as your entree. Perhaps roast lamb?” His pencil poised over his pad, ready to write “lamb”.

I said, “No thank you…I think we both have decided to take the fresh farmed salmon from Maine.” I saw my dinner companion nod his agreement.
But, the waiter’s eyebrows shot up. I couldn’t tell whether it was surprise or approval.Then he retired to the kitchen to place the orders.

Tarragon and rosemary billowed out as the kitchen door swung open and then closed behind the waiter’s straight, starched, black vested back.

“No Orange Roughy today?” my dinner companion asked…

“No…do you know that Orange Roughy is caught deep, more than 600 meters, that’s 2000 feet – half a mile down in the Tasman Sea. We know less about the deep sea than we know about Mars. Do you know how long it takes for Orange Roughy to spawn the next generation?”

My companion shook his head – he was used to my lectures.

“At least twenty years. Longer than it takes a human. But it’s estimated they live for over a 150 years. They grow very slowly. The fishery in New Zealand is not managed well and most are caught before they can reproduce, so the populations are fast disappearing. Also they’re caught with bottom trawls that destroy the habitat for other sea animals. Unfortunately, because of its wonderful taste 40% of all Orange Roughy caught come to the US market.”

I paused, trying to remember, and said, “It’s like in the movie The Freshman, with Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick…when they’re about to eat the endangered Komodo Dragon – the last of its species. Well the Orange Roughy is like the Komodo Dragon* of the sea. On the verge of extinction. If, like the waiter, we would offer the fish in restaurants and grocery stores as the “Slimemouth” – instead of “Orange Roughy” – it might not be such an appetizing choice – consumer demand would decrease and the fish might have a chance to recover.”

The waiter returned with our farmed Atlantic Salmon from Maine, perfectly prepared. We began to eat.

As to the future of Orange Roughy? No one knows what taking fish from the deep will do to waters naturally life-limited.

But you can make the right choices to help conserve endangered fish and maybe ensure their future. Download the Seafood Watch app (www.seafoodwatch.org) and consult it next time you go out to eat.                                    

Stay well-informed by coming back to my site to read more about the best fish choices …and to conserve our oceans

Do you have a fish recipe you’d like me to post?…PLEASE SHARE, but only if doesn’t use Orange Roughy or Chilean Sea Bass!


* Note. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/komodo-dragon – The current status of the Komodo Dragon remains “vulnerable”, due to illegal poaching and tourism.