Atlantic Wolffish

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The Atlantic wolffish (Anarhicas lupus) is a large fish that lives in the cold waters of the North Atlantic Ocean and has a lifespan of up to 20 years. The largest recorded specimen was a meter-and-a-half long and weighed almost 18 kilograms. The wolffish lives among rocks at depths of up to 600 meters (though it is typically found between 18 and 110 m below the surface) and its blood contains natural antifreeze. It is a long, eel-like fish, with a dorsal fin running the entire length of the body, and it moves through the water relatively slowly, undulating from side to side. This species ranges in color from purplish brown to olive green or bluish gray, with broad, dark, vertical stripes. It is slippery to the touch because its scales are imbedded in the skin. The wolffish’s characteristic features are its large head and mouth, and its fang-like teeth, which protrude from its mouth even when its jaws are shut. Behind these long conical teeth is a set of crushing teeth, and the wolffish even has serrated teeth in its throat. It feeds on various kinds of shellfish and other hard-bodied or spiny invertebrates, and does not eat other fish.

The wolffish is a popular game fish and commercial species. It has firm flesh, similar to that of cod or monkfish, with a high fat content. It is very flavorful because of its diet of shellfish. Wolffish is best when prepared simply; it benefits from marinating and is suitable for frying, grilling, and baking. Its skin is edible but tough. Complementary flavors include citrus, salt, pepper, and herbs.

Since the mid-20th century, wolffish populations have been declining due to overfishing and bycatch, and it is now at risk throughout most of its range. Commercial fishing methods such as bottom trawling damage the wolffish’s natural habitat. One of the consequences of this species’ decline has been the rapid proliferation of two of its preferred prey, sea urchins and green crabs, which disrupt the local habitat when their populations become too large. In addition to keeping these species in check, wolffish is also an indicator for the health of species such as cod. It is important that the various measures put in place to protect the wolffish (e.g. commercial permits, closed seasons, and minimum catch sizes) are respected, and that this species continues to be closely monitored.

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Nominated by:Mimi Edelman