Species Profile

Atlantic Wolffish

Scientific Name: Anarhichas lupus
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
Range: Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2012
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern


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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Atlantic Wolffish

Atlantic Wolffish Photo 1

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Description

The Atlantic Wolffish is a large bottom-dwelling predatory marine fish. Adults can weigh almost 20 kilograms and reach a length of 150 centimeters. The Atlantic Wolffish has a heavy head, a blunt snout, its profile is rounded, and it lacks pelvic fins. Like other wolffish, it has large canine-like teeth in the front of its jaws with flattened, grinding teeth in behind. The colour of Atlantic Wolffish varies with its surroundings, from slate blue to dull olive green to purplish brown. Individuals of this species also bare nine to thirteen darkly coloured transverse bars on their bodies.

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Distribution and Population

The species is widely distributed across the North Atlantic. On the western side of the North Atlantic, it occurs off the coast of west Greenland and southern Labrador, in the Strait of Belle Isle and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is also found off the east and west coasts of Newfoundland and on the Grand Banks. On the eastern side of the North Atlantic, it occurs from Iceland, the Faeroes, Spitzbergen, the White Sea, and Murman coast, south to the British Isles and the western coast of France. In the southern edge of its range, it is found from the Scotian shelf to the Gulf of Maine with occasional fish sighted off New Jersey. The centre of its western Atlantic distribution is off the coast of northeast Newfoundland in Canada. Available data indicate that the number of Atlantic Wolffish in Canadian waters has declined by 87% from the late 1970’s to the mid 1990’s. The number of locations where the species occurs has declined and the range where the species is abundant may be shrinking. Even though it has declined significantly, it is thought to be very widespread and to still exist in relatively large numbers.

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Habitat

The Atlantic Wolffish primarily inhabits the cold, deep waters of the continental shelf. It prefers rocky or hard clay bottoms and uses areas with sandy or muddy bottoms only occasionally.

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Biology

The Atlantic Wolffish’ spawning times and habits vary greatly across its range. Off the east coast of Newfoundland, the larger (> 50 cm in length) and sexually mature fish are thought to move inshore to shallow waters in spring and spawn in September. The smaller, juvenile fish remain in deeper water. Egg hatching occurs by mid-December. The eggs are among the largest of any fish, reaching six millimeters in diameter. Eggs are laid in a large mass at the bottom and are protected by the males. Upon hatching, larvae stay close to the hatching site. Off eastern Newfoundland, fish of this species reach maturity when they are around eight to ten years of age and are between 52 and 60 centimeters in length. Like larvae, adult Atlantic Wolffish are relatively sedentary. The Atlantic Wolffish diet is mainly composed of hard-shelled benthic invertebrates such as echinoderms, molluscs and crustaceans; it also eats small amounts of other fish.

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Threats

There are no data available on the direct causes of the declines in the Atlantic. The Atlantic Wolffish figures in commercial catches, at one time as a target species but now only as a by-catch (accidental capture of the species). Even this latter type of removal can have a negative impact on the wolffish populations. In addition, bottom trawling is likely detrimental to the species because it destroys and disrupts habitat.

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Protection

Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

7 record(s) found.

Report on the Progress of Recovery Strategy Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Status Report on the Atlantic Wolffish (Anarhichas lupus) in Canada (2013)

    The Atlantic Wolffish, Anarhichas lupus, is a large-bodied, bottom-dwelling fish with prominent canine-like teeth. It has dark bars on its body that distinguish it from the other wolffish species. This species is taken as bycatch in a wide range of fisheries and was of commercial interest in the 1990s. A very limited commercial fishery persists, with the largest catches reported off Nova Scotia and south of Newfoundland.

COSEWIC Assessments

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Atlantic Wolffish (2013)

    This species underwent steep declines in both abundance and area of occupancy over much of its range from the 1980s until the mid 1990s, including its historical stronghold in waters east and north of Newfoundland. Since then it has been increasing in abundance and area of occupancy. While these recent increases are encouraging, the species remains at low abundance compared to the early 1980s. Population increases have probably been aided by reduced commercial fisheries, which take wolffish as bycatch. There have been continuing declines in abundance on the Scotian Shelf and in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, where historically there were fewer individuals than areas to the east and north.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Northern Wolffish (Anarhichas denticulatus) and Spotted Wolffish (Anarhichas minor), and Management Plan for Atlantic Wolffish (Anarhichas lupus) in Canada (2008)

    Four species of wolffish (family Anarhichadidae) inhabit Canadian waters: Anarhichas denticulatus (northern), A. minor (spotted) and A. lupus (atlantic) in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, and A. orientalis in the Arctic Ocean only. In May 2001, A. denticulatus and A. minor were assessed by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) as “threatened” due to declines in their abundance and biomass. This assessment applies to species likely to become “endangered” if limiting factors are not reversed, while “endangered” refers to species facing imminent extirpation or extinction. COSEWIC indicated that over three generations the abundance of these two species had declined by over 90% and extent of distribution had decreased. Specific threats identified by COSEWIC included bycatch mortality in commercial fisheries and habitat alteration by trawling gear. A third species, A. lupus, was assessed by COSEWIC as “special concern”, suggesting that it is particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events but is not endangered or threatened at this time. All three wolffish species where included in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) at the time of the Act’s proclamation in June 2003.

Management Plans

  • Recovery Strategy for the Northern Wolffish (Anarhichas denticulatus) and Spotted Wolffish (Anarhichas minor), and Management Plan for Atlantic Wolffish (Anarhichas lupus) in Canada (2008)

    Four species of wolffish (family Anarhichadidae) inhabit Canadian waters: Anarhichas denticulatus (northern), A. minor (spotted) and A. lupus (atlantic) in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, and A. orientalis in the Arctic Ocean only. In May 2001, A. denticulatus and A. minor were assessed by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) as “threatened” due to declines in their abundance and biomass. This assessment applies to species likely to become “endangered” if limiting factors are not reversed, while “endangered” refers to species facing imminent extirpation or extinction. COSEWIC indicated that over three generations the abundance of these two species had declined by over 90% and extent of distribution had decreased. Specific threats identified by COSEWIC included bycatch mortality in commercial fisheries and habitat alteration by trawling gear. A third species, A. lupus, was assessed by COSEWIC as “special concern”, suggesting that it is particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events but is not endangered or threatened at this time. All three wolffish species where included in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) at the time of the Act’s proclamation in June 2003.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report – 2012-2013 (2013)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2012 to September 2013) from November 25 to November 30, 2012 and from April 28 to May 3, 2013. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 73 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2012-2013 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 2 Endangered: 28 Threatened: 19 Special Concern: 19 Data Deficient: 4 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 73 Of the 73 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 50 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment.