Atlantic Wolffish

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The Atlantic wolf fish is also known as the wolf fish, Atlantic catfish, ocean catfish, devil fish and wolf eel, all names that reflect the characteristics of this unique species.
The largest specimen measured is one and a half metres long and almost 18 kilos. It has a long, wavy body, varying in colour between brownish-purple, dull olive green and bluish-grey.
The most distinctive feature of the wolffish is the large mouth structure, with canine fangs that protrude even when closed. The six strong conical teeth with three rows of crushing teeth devour crabs, snails, clams, scallops, lobsters, whelks and hard or spiny invertebrates. They eat no other fish.
Along the New England coast, the densest populations inhabit the cold, rocky waters of the southwestern Gulf of Maine. They are rarely seen south of Cape Cod. In Maine, they survive at depths of 110 m and temperatures range from 0 to 11.1 degrees. They have a natural resilience and prefer lower water temperatures.
It is a solitary, sedentary species until it bonds in pairs for breeding at the age of 5 or 6 years. Rocks, broken terrain and small underwater caves provide shelter and space for nesting. Pairs form in spring/summer and lay their eggs in September/October.
The way in which the Atlantic wolffish fertilises its eggs distinguishes it from many other fish. Instead of depositing the eggs offshore for the male fish to fertilise them, the female fertilises them internally and the male wolffish stays in the nest and protects the eggs for four months or until the brood is strong enough to be independent.
The life span of this species can last up to 20 years.
Its meat is tasty, firm and satisfying, similar to monkfish and cod.
Using fillets or steaks, prepare them fried, grilled and baked. The firm meat that keeps its shape is an excellent choice for soups and stews. Preparation in parchment paper is a great way to ovoid the fish and capture its delicate flavour with aromas.
The Atlantic wolffish inhabits both the west and east coasts of the Atlantic. The densest populations are found in Georges Bank, the Gulf of Maine and the Great South Channel.
According to scientific data, the species’ population has declined dramatically due to overfishing and bycatch. Landings declined from 1950 to 1977, then steadily declined until the fishery was suspended in 2010.
This decline prompted the New England Fishery Management Council to institute a total ban. NOAA Fisheries, in its 2017 operational assessment, recognised the crisis of overfishing and habitat destruction. This species is currently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
No landings were recorded until 2016. There is currently a ban on both commercial and recreational fishing for Atlantic wolffish. This species remains critically endangered.
The main threat continues with regulations due to modern fishing practices, such as trawling, huge nets that are dragged along the ocean floor disturbing everything in their path. This indiscriminate practice has touched every inch of the seabed and unintentionally produced by-catch.
The biological richness and productivity of the New England ocean is important to conserve.
The Atlantic wolffish is in a precarious position: it moves slowly, lives on the ocean floor and nests for up to nine months to raise its brood.
Its ferocious appearance can be overlooked when one considers the great benefit of this species for our fragile ocean ecosystems. Their prey are sea urchins and green crabs, which can be invasive. If left unchecked, these two species could have a widespread negative impact in the Gulf of Maine and as far south as New Jersey, undermining the balance of marine life.

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Nominated by:Mimi Edelman