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The UK Marine Conservation Society has categorized orange roughy as "vulnerable to exploitation".
It is found in 3 to 9 °C (37 to 48 °F), deep (bathypelagic, 180-to-1,800-metre (590 to 5,910 ft)) waters of the Western Pacific Ocean, eastern Atlantic Ocean (from Iceland to Morocco; and from Walvis Bay, Namibia, to off Durban, South Africa), Indo-Pacific (off New Zealand and Australia), and in the eastern Pacific off Chile.
The inactive phase conserves energy during lean periods. Orange roughy are oceanodromous (wholly marine), pelagic spawners: that is, they migrate several hundred kilometers between localized spawning and feeding areas each year and form large spawning aggregations (possibly segregated according to gender) wherein the fish release large, spherical eggs 2.25 mm (0.089 in) in diameter, made buoyant by an orange-red oil globule) and sperm en masse directly into the water.
The fertilized eggs, which are said to be 2.0–2.5 millimetres (0.079–0.098 in), (and later larvae) are planktonic, rising to around 200 m (660 ft) to develop, with the young fish eventually descending to deeper waters as they mature.
The pectoral fins contain 15–18 soft rays each; the pelvic fins are thoracic and contain one spine and six soft rays; the caudal fin is forked.
The interior of the mouth and gill cavity is a bluish black; the mouth itself is large and strongly oblique. The lateral line is uninterrupted, with 28 to 32 scales whose spinules or 'ctenii' largely obscure the lateral line's pores. The orange roughy is the largest known slimehead species at a maximum standard length (a measurement which excludes the tail fin) of 75 cm (30 in) and a maximum weight of 7 kg (15 lb).
The fish is a bright, brick-red color; fading to a yellowish-orange after death.
Like other slimeheads, orange roughy is slow-growing and late to mature, resulting in a very low resilience which makes them extremely susceptible to overfishing.
For example, juvenile consumption of crustaceans is lowest at 900 metres (3,000 ft) but increases with depth while crustaceans in the adult diet peaks at 800–1,000 metres (2,600–3,300 ft) and decreases with depth.