The marine environment presents particular challenges for our understanding of the factors that determine gene flow and consequent population structure. For marine fish, various aspects of life history have been considered important in an environment with few physical barriers, but dominated by current patterns, often varying with depth. These factors include the abundance and longevity of larval stages, typically more susceptible to movement along current paths. It also includes adult body size, fecundity and longevity with ‘r-selected’ species typically thought capable of greater gene flow and consequent panmixia. Here we investigate the population genetics of the orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus), a clearly ‘K-selected’ species with habitat dependence on sea mounts for spawning, relatively large body size, a brief larval stage and relatively low fecundity. We used 14 polymorphic microsatellite loci to test the hypothesis that these characteristics will result in philopatry and genetic structure in the Atlantic Ocean. We discuss possible evolutionary mechanisms that could explain the results, which show the opposite pattern, with effective panmixia across thousands of kilometres in the North Atlantic.