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  • Development of Sex Control Methods in Sablefish


Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Environmental and Fisheries Sciences EFS - Environmental Physiology; EFS - Marine Fish and Shellfish Biology and Aquaculture


Sex Control in Marine Fishes
Development of Sex Control Methods in Sablefish
Effective methods for producing reproductively sterile fish for aquaculture are needed to address biosafety concerns associated with escapement of farmed fish and potential genetic contamination of wild stocks and prevent unauthorized propagation of genetically-selected strains. Available methods for sterility induction are often ineffective, especially in males. This activity builds upon our success in producing faster-growing, monosex female sablefish stocks and seeks to refine those methods and develop an effective non-GMO method for sterilization. In FY24, gene silencing (morpholino)-based experiments using sablefish as a marine aquaculture model species will be conducted with University of Maryland collaborators. Sustainable marine aquaculture development is a high national (DOC, NOAA, Congress), regional (WCR) and local (NWFSC) priority addressed by the NOAA Aquaculture Strategic Plan 2023–2028, A National Strategic Plan for Aquaculture Research (2022), and NOAA Blue Economy Strategic Plan 2021–2025. Development of methods for sex control in marine fish was highlighted as a critical priority in the NWFSC 5–10 Year Strategic Plan for Aquaculture and the most recent external NOAA Aquaculture Science Review. We ultimately aim to transfer improved methods for monosex production and novel sterilization technologies to the U.S. aquaculture industry, with the goal of improving the environmental and economic sustainability of marine aquaculture.

Data Sets

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Research Themes

Recovery and rebuilding of marine and coastal species
The Pacific Northwest is home to several iconic endangered species, including Pacific salmon and killer whales, and several rockfish species. Mandates such as the Endangered Species Act, MagnusonStevens Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, grant NOAA Fisheries the authority to manage the recovery of depleted species and stocks. The NWFSC contributes to species recovery through research, monitoring and analysis, providing NOAA managers and regional stakeholders the tools and information they need to craft effective regulations and develop sustainable plans for recovery.
Sustainable, safe and secure seafood for healthy populations and vibrant communities
Effective fisheries management provides economic opportunities and ensures the long-term sustainability of fisheries and the habitats on which they depend. The NWFSC seeks to improve the quality and quantity of data used in stock assessments, the methods for assessing stocks and ecosystem sustainability within the context of human modification of the environment. The NWFSC also provides state-of-the-art science and technology to support aquaculture while protecting and maintaining ecosystem health. Further, pathogens, toxins from harmful algal blooms (HABs), chemical contaminants and other stressors of marine ecosystems pose significant risks to health of both seafood resources and to humans. The NWFSC focuses on research to improve understanding of those risks, how to forecast them, and identify means to mitigate their impacts.

Research Foci

Develop research and technology to foster innovative and sustainable approaches to aquaculture
The NOAA Aquaculture Policy calls for enabling sustainable aquaculture that provides domestic jobs, products, and services and that is in harmony with healthy, productive, and resilient marine ecosystems. To achieve these goals, NWFSC’s research examines scientific and technical issues to support aquaculture production. NWFSC research also considers potential impacts of aquaculture practices on the environment and on wild populations of fish and shellfish and methods for diminishing those impacts. Specific research objectives include (1) identify methods for reducing reliance on forage fish protein and oil in aquaculture feeds; this includes the evaluation of plant and microbe-based alternatives for fish meal and oil, because fishmeal and oil used in producing artificial fish diets is unsustainable and often a source of contaminants, (2) evaluate and model potential genetic impacts of aquaculture escapes on natural populations, (3) develop shellfish research that will support regional initiatives, such as the Washington Shellfish Initiative, especially native shellfish restoration and (4) develop new marine species for aquaculture and shore-based marine recirculating aquaculture systems.
Evaluate the effects of artificial propagation on recovery, rebuilding and sustainability of marine and anadromous species
Artificial propagation has the potential to provide benefits both to species recovery and to seafood sustainability. Artificial propagation also poses risks to wild species and ecosystems. In the past, the use of artificial propagation has been an important risk factor for several threatened and endangered species, particularly Pacific salmon. Assessing the effects of artificial propagation is complicated by the fact that programs vary widely in size, rearing practices, and goals. The NWFSC conducts critical research on the influence of artificial propagation on population dynamics, growth rate, ecology of infectious disease, and the evolutionary fitness of wild fish and other marine organisms. Results of this research are needed to support the recovery of fish populations and have been especially valuable in providing critical information for recent, larger scale habitat restoration activities such as the Elwha Dam removal. NWFSC will continue to conduct science that informs the discussion about whether to allow fish to recolonize naturally after barrier removal, or to supplement populations with hatchery fish and on the impacts of aquaculture on fishing pressure and practices, and on the surrounding environment and ecosystem.


gonadal sex differentiation
process of the gonads differentiating into either ovaries or testes
reproductive biology
field focusing on reproductive development, such as development of the gonads and gametes, and the process of reproduction
common name for Anoplopoma fimbria. Other common names include black cod and butterfish.
sex control
controlling the differentiation of gonads into either ovaries or testes, or disrupting this process to induce reproductive sterility
sustainable aquaculture
farming fish in an environmentally sustainable manner


2020 DOC Gold Medal Award
Group Gold Medal Award "for development of technology to overcome bottlenecks and enhance profitability of commercial aquaculture of sablefish in the USA."
2020 NOAA Science Report vignette
Research vignette on "Proof-of-concept for methods to induce reproductive sterility in cultured sablefish" highlighted in the 2020 NOAA Science Report, section 2: Sustainable use and stewardship of ocean and coastal resources.
Educational book chapter in Methods for Fish Biology, 2nd edition
Luckenbach and Guzman (in press) invited book chapter on fish reproduction in aquaculture and fisheries which highlights sex control research under this activity.
Invited oral presentation at Aquaculture America conference
Luckenbach et al. (2020) oral presentation "Investigation of approaches for reproductive sterilization of sablefish" given in a special session on "Sterility in aquaculture."
Master's degree obtained by student volunteer
Thao Huynh obtained her M.S. degree for a thesis entitled "Improving sustainability of sablefish aquaculture via testing methodology for reproductive sterilization."
NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NWFSC-159
Hartley et al. (2020) article focusing on sablefish aquaculture advancements, including an economic assessment of monosex female production of sablefish and the associated increased profitability to growers. This study was central to our demonstration of the benefits of monosex production for sablefish aquaculture that applies to many other marine species.
Oral presentation at the Aquaculture 2019 conference
Goetz et al. (2019) oral presentation focusing on technological breakthroughs to advance sustainable sablefish aquaculture.
Oral presentation at the Aquaculture 2019 conference
Luckenbach et al. (2019) oral presentation focusing on the use of high temperature exposure for sex control in sablefish.
Poster presentation at Aquaculture America conference
Luckenbach et al. (2020) poster presentation "Methods for triploidy induction and ploidy determination in a marine teleost, sablefish Anoplopoma fimbria" given in a special session on "Sterility in aquaculture."
Research article published in Gene
Hayman et al. (2021) research paper focusing on identification and characterization of gonadal biomarkers linked to phenotypic sex (i.e., development of ovaries vs. testes).
Research article published in Gene
Hayman et al. (2021) manuscript focusing on identification of gonadal genes that drive female versus male development and the labile period of sexual differentiation in sablefish.
Research article published in General and Comparative Endocrinology
Huynh et al. (2019) research article focusing on the feasibility of high temperature for sex control (induction of sterility or sex reversal) in sablefish.
Research article published in Genome Research
Herpin et al. (2021) research paper focusing on identification and evolution of the master sex-determining gene in sablefish, a duplicated gene known as gsdf, and updating and improving the sablefish genome for public access.
Review article published in Journal of the World Aquaculture Society
Goetz et al. (2021) review article focusing on the status and commercialization of sablefish aquaculture, including research achievements associated with this APP activity.
Review of methods of sterility induction in fishes
Xu et al. (in review) review article on current methods for sterility induction in finfishes with emphasis on our morpholino-based approach with application to Pacific Northwest species, such as sablefish and Pacific salmon.
World Aquaculture magazine article
Luckenbach et al. (2020) magazine article published as proceedings of a special session on "Sterility in aquaculture – advances, performance, impacts" from the Aquaculture America 2020 meeting.


Class Actinopterygii
ray-finned fishes
Family Anoplopomatidae
Genus Anoplopoma
Kingdom Animalia
Order Scorpaeniformes
Phylum Chordata
Species Anoplopoma fimbria


Adam Luckenbach
Principal Investigator
William Fairgrieve