Opah

Opah
  • Scientific name: Lampris guttatus
  • Also know as: Moonfish, Spotted Moonfish, Sunfish, Red Fin Fish, Kingfish, Cravo, Opal Fish, Jerusalem Haddock
  • Size: Up to 6ft in length and 550lbs.
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: No record stands. Qualifying weight set at 20lb.
  • IUCN Status: NE (Not Evaluated)
  • Distribution: Found worldwide but populations are diffuse. Sporadically found around parts of the British Isles.
  • Feeds on: Hunts squid and other fish but also has the ability to filter feed on plankton and krill.
  • Description: Brightly coloured fish with a deep body which is almost circular. The body itself is a silvery-blue and covered in white spots and dots. Single dorsal fin which rises to a large point and then continues in a smaller ridge down the back. Pectoral and ventral fins are very long and narrow and tail is deeply forked. All of the fins are bright red in colour. Mouth is relatively small with no teeth and the eyes are large.
  • Additional notes: Although this fish is sometimes called the ‘Sunfish’ it is not be be confused with the Sunfish (Mola mola).

The opah is a colourful and exotic looking fish which is present throughout most of the world’s seas. Relatively little is known about the opah’s life cycle and feeding habits. Although very rare it has been observed in British and Irish waters. This species has a British boat caught record, although not yet have a shore caught record.

Distribution

The opah has a worldwide distribution but numbers are somewhat spread out and dispersed. It is generally found in tropical and sub-tropical waters, although they do seen to be able to live happily in temperate waters as well. The opah found in the North East Atlantic, in parts of the Mediterranean, off the coast of North and South America, as well as in Indian and Australia and Australian waters. Within British waters the opah has been found washed up on beaches as far north as the Orkneys, and is thought to be present in the warmer waters to the south west of England and Ireland. However, global warming may see the opah becoming more common around Britain in the same way that the sunfish and triggerfish have increased in number in recent years.

Life Cycle and Behaviour

Opah caught by researchers off California

An opah caught by researchers off the coast of California. The fish was released after being tagged.

It is thought to be a solitary fish which lives and feeds for most of its life alone, although contradictory information states that opah have been seen in shoals. Despite their size and somewhat ungainly looks the opah is a relatively fast swimmer and is able to catch fish and squid. It is also thought that opah may have the ability to filter feed by straining krill, plankton and other microscopic marine life forms through their gills, although this is disputed by some scientists. In 2015 research revealed that the Opah is actually warm blooded, and use a ‘heat exchange’ system within their bodies to keep their blood and internal organs warm, explaining why they can be found in cooler waters. Opah generally stay away from land and live out in the open ocean, living in mid-water in seas at least several hundred metres deep. Since the opah is a deepwater fish it is very rarely caught by shore anglers (the British shore caught record for this fish is vacant and the qualifying weight is set at 20lbs). However, there is a boat caught record of an opah of 128lbs, caught by an angler named A. Blewett who was fishing out of Mounts Bay, Penzance in 1973. Being a pelagic (mid-water) fish the opah also avoids being caught by bottom trawlers, and boat anglers fishing with rod and line who tend to concentrate on demersal (bottom dwelling) fish.

Commercial Value

The opah appears to be going up in value as a commercial fish with growing demand from consumers due to the exotic looks of this fish and its delicate flavour. It is caught and retained as bycatch in pelagic trawls, and is also caught on long-lines set for tuna, although some small scale fisheries actively target this species. In terms of cooking this species is usually filleted and pan fried, while in Japanese cuisine the flesh is very thinly sliced and used in sushi and sashimi. Despite the large size of the opah, only around one third of its weight is usable flesh, the other two thirds being made up of skin, bones and the head and fins. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) classes this species as one of Least Concern.

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