Dr. Mark Hixon -photo: University of Hawaii at Manoa
Dr. Mark Hixon -photo: University of Hawaii at Manoa

There’s an acronym floating around the fishing industry that is a little less jaw-dropping when you read it in texting form as BOFFFF. It stands for “Big, Old, Fat, Fertile, Female Fish.”

Despite bluntness of the words, it is likely scientists just want to get directly to the point of a brand new study. The study shows that this demographic of fish is essential for sustaining fishery stocks around the world that are being depleted by over-fishing and over-consumption.

The BOFFFF theory has been around for several years, but until now, it has mostly remained in the back rooms of labs as scientists and biologists work to prove it.




In the study just released (October, 2014) by the University of Hawaii at Manoa, lead author Dr. Mark Hixon did just that. Dr. Hixon’s study examines how the loss of big fish impacts the stability of fishery stocks. This depletion known as “size and age truncation” is present in almost all fisheries.

Why do we care? Because we’ve hit a tipping point where the prize of the big fish for both commercial fishermen and sport fishermen is negatively impacting the ability of fisheries stocks to keep up with the pace. This study shows that the same big fish we catch for food and sport are the ones that are essential in ensuring that there’s more of them to catch in the future.

There are several ways the BOFFFFs contribute to the sustainability of fisheries:

  1. Bigger = more eggs. It’s a simple equation- the bigger females produce more eggs than the smaller ones. Just how many more eggs is staggering. In just one example using the blue trevally in Hawaii, a 27-inch female produces 84 times more eggs than a 12-inch female.
  2. Quantity AND Quality. Not only do the larger female fish produce more eggs, but this study shows that the quality of these eggs surpasses those of smaller fish. Better quality eggs means stronger offspring that have a better chance of surviving into adulthood.
  3. Savvy spawners. Call it maturity, but the study shows that BOFFFFs spawn at different times and places than their younger competition. This matters because “it increases the odds that some young will find favorable environments in an unpredictable ocean” according to co-author Dr. Darren Johnson of California State University at Long Beach.
  4. Great timing. Maybe it is female instinct, but BOFFFFs know a thing or two about saving up until the time is right. The study shows that these females are able to endure periods of unfavorable reproduction, thus being able to store eggs for better spawning opportunities.

This study has proven what scientists have thought for a long time, but the challenge now is doing something with it. This might mean an increased effort to regulate catch limits or establishing more marine reserves to ensure protection of fish populations.

As an avid angler, attention to conservation is important for protecting our sport and protecting the fish in our waters. I never imagined the terms Big, Old, Fat Fertile Female could carry such a positive connotation. But clearly the BOFFFFs in this study show that if you’ve got it- flaunt it. Now, it’s time to protect it.

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