Orange roughy are very slow-growing, long-lived fish (can live up to 120-130 years). In New Zealand orange roughy are estimated to reach sexual maturity between 23 and 31 years of age, and become vulnerable to fishing at 15-20 years of age.
Spawning occurs once every year, between June and early August in several areas within the New Zealand EEZ. Spawning fish form dense aggregations at depths of 700-1000m in areas often associated with bottom features such as pinnacles and canyons. It is likely that individual orange roughy do not spawn every year and fecundity is relatively low.
Additional aggregations form outside the spawning period, presumably for feeding. Their main prey includes midwater and bottom species (prawns, fish and squid).
Orange roughy stocks within the New Zealand EEZ are managed under the Quota Management System (QMS). There are nine distinct orange roughy fisheries within the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and each is managed independently.
Commercial orange roughy fishing began in New Zealand on the Chatham Rise in the late 1970’s - early 1980’s with fisheries in other parts of the New Zealand EEZ typically starting in the mid 1980’s. Catches peaked in the late 1980’s and have decreased since, largely in response to reductions in catch limits as the biomass of the various stocks has been fished down to target levels. Based on surveys completed using new technology, catch limits for three of the main orange fisheries were increased in 2014. Over 9,000 t (greenweight) of orange roughy were landed from the New Zealand EEZ in the 2014-15 fishing year. Approximately 50% of the catch came from the three largest orange roughy fisheries in New Zealand: Challenger Plateau, Northwest Chatham Rise, and the East and South Chatham Rise fishery - the oldest and largest orange roughy fishery in the world.
Orange roughy quota across all fisheries was estimated in 2009 to be worth $282m. In the 2014 calendar year, 2,890 tonnes (processed weight) of orange roughy was exported realising a value of $36.5m. The majority of orange roughy processed in New Zealand is exported as frozen fillets with 80% (by volume) exported to the USA and 14% to Australia.
There is no customary non-commercial or recreational fishing for orange roughy.