Additional Offshore Species

This section features the some of the less common fish species which live in deeper offshore waters. Scroll down to read through the different species, or click on a link below to jump to a species.

Norway PoutBlue WhitingTuskRose FishBluemouth Rockfish

Norway Pout

Norway Pout

  • Scientific name: Trisopterus esmarkii
  • Size: Up to 40cm, but typically 20-25cm
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: N/a
  • IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)
  • Distribution: Found in deep water around the British Isles. Also distributed throughout the rest of European waters.
  • Feeds on: Tiny crustaceans and planktonic creatures, will also eat fish eggs and very small fish when fully mature.
  • Description: Small fish. Three dorsal fins are present, the first is tall and triangular. Eyes are relatively large and there is a small chin barbule. There is a noticeable black/dark grey spot at the start of the pectoral fin. Colour usually a greenish grey to brown.

Distribution

The Norway pout is a deep-sea species (there is currently no UK shore or boat caught record) which lives at depths of several hundred metres to a maximum of around 1000 metres. It has a fairly wide distribution around the UK wherever there is sufficient depth of water, although it is more common around the south and the west of the British Isles. Is also found throughout the rest of colder waters of northern Europe with this species found around Iceland, Greenland and throughout Scandinavian waters.

Diet, Behaviour and Spawning

Norway pout typically feed by eating small crustaceans and shrimps and prawns which live on the seabed, and will also take fish eggs and larvae. Larger Norway pout also show a limited ability to hunt and will chase down small and immature fish, as well as some larger crustaceans. They are a short-lived species which can with high fecundity – their maximum life expectancy is just four or five years, and they are capable of reproducing after two years. A northwards migration is thought to take place, with spawning taking place in the colder Scandinavian and Nordic waters in the spring.

Commercial Fishing and Importance to Food Chain

The small size and abundant number of the Norway pout means that it is a very important part of the food chain as it provides a source of food for a great number of larger species. Practically all predatory fish such as cod, hake, whiting, pollock, coalfish, monkfish and ling will eat Norway pout. Norway pout are commercially important. However, they are only caught for human consumption on a very limited basis, with the vast majority of Norway pout being processed into fishmeal and used for fish oil. In the 1970s annual catches of several hundred thousand tons of Norway pout were common, with over 877,000 tons caught in 1974 alone. Scandinavian countries – particularly Norway and Denmark – accounted for the majority of these catches.

This level of fishing intensity was utterly unsustainable and recent years have seen commercial fishing for this species taking place on a much more responsible basis to allow stocks to recover. Since the year 2000 catches have varied from 22,500 tons to 137,000 tons per year, which is seen as being within safe sustainable limits. Furthermore, the fishery for this species was closed on several occasions between 2005 and 2007 to allow stocks to recover. The IUCN now classes Norway pout as a species of Least Concern with an increasing population trend.

Blue Whiting

Blue Whiting

  • Scientific name: Micromesistius poutassou
  • Also know as: Couch’s Whiting
  • Size: Up to 18 inches and 2lb, typically 1ft and 1lb
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: N/a
  • IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)
  • Distribution: Found across the Atlantic in deep, offshore waters.
  • Feeds on: Small sea creatures such as immature fish and squid, as well as small mid-water crustaceans.
  • Description: Slim bodied small fish. Three dorsal fins are present, the first two of which are triangular. Tail is fairly deeply forked. Eyes are large and located very close to the snout. Lower jaw protrudes very slightly and mouth is full of small teeth. Colour is silvery with a darker back and pale underside, usually with a blueish tint. No barbule is present

Blue whiting are a small fish which has a wide distribution across the Atlantic and into Scandinavian waters. They are a member of the cod family, but unlike most members of this family (which are demersal), the blue whiting is a pelagic fish which means that it lives and feeds in mid-water. They were previously ignored as a food fish but are now highly commercially important to many countries.

Distribution and Life Cycle

They are found from the coasts of northern Africa up to the Norwegian Sea and in the Mediterranean, with their range extending westwards to the waters of Iceland and Greenland and continuing across to the coasts of the USA and Canada. In British waters the blue whiting is found to the west of the British Isles, especially around the deep water Rockall Trough. Generally blue whiting are found at the mid-water mark in seas 500-600 metres deep, and can be found in waters down to 1000-1500 metres in some locations.

Blue Whiting

Worldwide distribution of the blue whiting.

Blue whiting form into large shoals and will feed on all manner of small creatures which live in mid-water. Small fish such as spats will be eaten, as will immature fish of larger species such as cod and haddock and tiny midwater crustaceans such as krill. Blue whiting are migratory and cover large distances, but little is understood of the specific migration patterns. It is thought that weather patterns, tidal currents and other external factors may all play a role in the destination of blue whiting shoals. There is a second species of blue whiting in the Micromesistius genus, the Southern Blue Whiting (Micromesistius australis). This is a similar species which is exclusively found in the southern hemisphere.

Commercial Value

Blue whiting in supermarket

Blue whiting on sale in a supermarket in Valencia, Spain.

Blue whiting were not exploited commercially until the 1970s, when Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and to a lesser extent EU nations realised that there was demand for blue whiting. This species could be both consumed by humans (mostly in fish products such as fish fingers and other frozen fish products) and be processed into fishmeal. Around 200,000 tons were caught per year in the late 1970s but catches of soon rocketed and by the mid-2000s around one million tons a year was being caught commercially. This was a completely unsustainable amount of fish to catch and soon blue whiting stocks crashed and urgent action was required to stop the decline. However, with blue whiting being a wide ranging fish which is distributed between the territorial waters of various counties, coming to an agreement on stock management has been a difficult and drawn out process. Eventually, in October 2010 talks were held in London between the various countries involved in the fishing of blue whiting and an agreement was reached to slash quotas and massively reduce the commercial exploitation of this species. In 2010 the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) had been 548,000 tons, but this was reduced to just 36,000 tons for 2011. With blue whiting being a relatively fast growing and early maturing fish hopes were high that a recovery in blue whiting stocks could happen quickly, and the commercial fishing lobby were happy to see that by 2013 the blue whiting quota was raised to 643,00 tons. This new quota is apparently safe and in line with scientific advice, and some companies which process blue whiting even suggesting that in the near future the species could be put forward for MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) accreditation as a sustainable fish species.

Knock on Effects of the Blue Whiting Crash

However, the blue whiting quota is still significantly less than what it was at its mid-2000s peak, and this reduction in TAC has had a major impact on the fishing industries of countries such as Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Being a mid-water species the blue whiting has to be caught with specially constructed pelagic trawlers and cannot be caught with bottom trawling in the way that cod, haddock and plaice can be. With much less blue whiting to catch the Iceland and Faroe’s expensively assembled pelagic fishing fleets have been sitting idle and as a response to this the governments of these countries have unilaterally decided to hugely increase their own quotas of mackerel – another pelagic species which the fleets are capable of catching. These quota increases have tipped the EU’s carefully (and for once sustainable managed) mackerel stocks into crisis, and seen mackerel stripped of its MSC status and sparked the ongoing and unresolved Mackerel War between the EU (and Norway) and Iceland/the Faroe Islands.

Rod Caught Records

With the blue whiting being a fish which lives in open ocean there is unsurprisingly no shore caught record for this species, and the qualifying weight is set at 12oz. However, there is a British boat caught record. In 1977 a Mr. J. H. Anderson caught a blue whiting weighing 1lb 12oz from Loch Fyne, Argyll and Bute in Scotland, which still stands as the British boat caught record.

Tusk

Tusk

  • Scientific name: Brosme brosme
  • Also know as: Cusk, Brismak, Torsk
  • Size: Up to 50lbs
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: N/a – Qualifying weight set at 3lbs.
  • IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)
  • Distribution: Found in deep water around the northern parts of the UK and Ireland.
  • Feeds on: Will feed on all manner of bottom dwelling creatures such as crustaceans, shellfish and flatfish.
  • Description: A fish which looks like it has been made up from other fish – the head and rounded belly look like a cod, while the remainder of the fish strongly resembles a ling or a hake. Body is elongated and a single dorsal fin runs along two thirds of the back, and anal fin runs for one third of the underside. Rounded tail fin is very small. Lateral line curves down from the top of the gill and then runs along the middle of the body to the tail. A single barbule is present on the lower jaw. Colour is usually greenish to grey, with a pale, sometimes white, underside.

The tusk is a deep sea fish which has a fairly wide distribution across the world. Is is found off the north eastern states of the USA with its range going up to the eastern seaboard of Canada. In Europe it is found in colder waters, with the population of this species being located around Greenland, Iceland and throughout Scandinavia. Around the British Isles this species is found all around Scotland and down to the north east of England, as well as off the western and northern coasts of the Republic of Ireland.

Tusk Distribution

Worldwide distribution of tusk.

Habitat, Feeding and Spawning

Despite the wide distribution tusk are a little known species for shore-based anglers as they seldom travel into shallow waters and are usually found in water between 100 and 400 metres deep, and have even been observed living and feeding at depths of 900 to 1000 metres. Tusk tend to feed over hard rocky and stony ground, and avoid sandy or open seabeds. This is mostly because the primary diet of the tusk is made up of creatures which are found in this type of environment such as crustaceans and shellfish. They are not fussy feeders and will also take most other forms of marine life they find such as brittle stars and crabs and will also eat other fish, usually flatfish which they come across when scouring the seabed.

 Tusk

A tusk caught by a boat angler in Norwegian waters. Due to their deep water habitat tusk are rarely caught by shore anglers and their is currently no British shore caught record.

Tusk are usually solitary creatures, although they may form into small shoals on rare occasions. They do not migrate into shallower water at any stage of their life. Spawning takes place in the spring and summer out at sea in deep water with hundreds of thousands of eggs being released by the female. These eggs float on or around the surface until they hatch and the young tusk will live in the upper levels of the sea, taking up their demersal (bottom dwelling) life as they get bigger and older. Tusk are a slow growing, fairly late maturing species, and are thought to be able to live for up to 25 to 30 years.

Commercial Value and Conservation Status

Tusk on sale

Tusk on sale at a fishmongers

Although uncommon and mostly unheard of in the UK the tusk is commercially important and is widely consumed throughout many other parts of the world, especially in North America. The intensive fishing pressure on tusk has led to numbers declining, with some estimates stating that numbers of this species may have reduced by as much as 90% since the 1970s. In 2012 an academic paper published in the Oxford Journal of Marines Sciences (Issue 69, Volume 10, pp 1753-1768) stated that both commercial fishing and climate change is damaging tusk numbers, and a warming ocean combined with ongoing fishing pressure would further reduce tusk stocks and break up existing habitats. North American fisheries authorities have placed limits on tusk catches to try and repopulate this species, but there is still major problems with tusk being caught by long lines and as bycatch.

Global catches of tusk from 1950 to 2003

Global catches of tusk from 1950 to 2003

Tusk is currently a classed as a Species of Concern by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. In Europe tusk numbers are thought to be in better shape due to the lesser commercial pressure, although there is a lack of accurate information about the stock levels of tusk throughout Europe. Tusk is currently classed as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), although this is likley to change once this species is re-evaluated.

Confusuion with Other Species

Due to the similarity of the tusk to both ling and hake it is very easy to confuse these three species. A guide to the major differences between these three species can be found here.

Shore Caught Record

As of January 2013 there is no shore caught record for tusk. The qualifying weight for this species is set at 3lbs. However, there is a boat caught record. A tusk of 15lb 12oz was caught by H. Foster off the Shetland Islands in 2005.

Rose Fish

Norway Haddock

  • Scientific name: Sebastes norvegicus
  • Also know as: Norway Haddock, Red Fish, Ocean Perch, Golden Redfish
  • Size: Up to 3ft, but typically 1-2ft in length
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: 1lb 3oz
  • IUCN Status: VU (Vulnerable)
  • Distribution: Widely distributed deep water fish. Found in British and Irish waters, and also around Iceland, Greenland and in Scandinavian waters. Also found on the other side of the Atlantic on the eastern coasts of America and Canada.
  • Feeds on: Small fish, prawns and crustaceans.
  • Description: Stout bodied fish which is an orangy/red colour once full mature. Back and upper flanks may be darker and underside pale. Eyes are large and there is a distinct black mark on the gill cover. The singe dorsal fin is spiked at the start and rounded towards the end. Tail fin is relatively large and straight edged.

The rose fish is a relatively deep living fish being found at depth of several hundred metres all the way down to over 1000 metres. Rose fish will be found in shallower water when they are young, where they mostly feed on small prawns and custaceans. As they get older they head into deeper water and their diet changes to be made up mostly of other fish. Rose fish are a gregarious species which lives in groups or shoals on the seabed.

Commercial Value

Commercially caught rose fish.

After being almost completely ignored as a food fish catches of rose fish began in the 1980s when around 10,000 tons a year was taken, with this increasing to 40,000 – 50,000 by the year 2000, although this has fallen back slightly again. No stock assessments have been carried out and this species is classed as Not Evaluated by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). However, as the rose fish is a slow growing and late maturing fish it is unlikely that this species will be able to withstand intensive commercial fishing for much longer without numbers crashing.

Confusion With Other Species

There appears to be confusion and a lack of consensus over the scientific name of this species. The scientific names Sebastes norvegicus is now accepted as correct, but many sources erroneously state that Sebastes marinus is the scientific name of the rose fish. The Norway haddock is also very easy to confuse with both the orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) and the bluemouth rockfish (Helicolenus dactylopterus). All of these species are incredibly similar looking which makes tracking the numbers and managing stocks of these species very difficult

Record Catches

Despite its rarity the Norway haddock has both a boat caught and shore caught record. The boat caught record is held by T. Barrett who caught a 1lb 13oz specimen fishing out of Southend-on-Sea in Essex in 1975. The shore caught record also comes from the same area with a 1lb 3oz Norway haddock caught by F. P. Fawke fishing off Southend Pier in 1973.

Bluemouth Rockfish

Bluemouth Rockfish

  • Scientific name: Helicolenus dactylopterus
  • Also know as: Blackbelly Rosefish
  • Size: Up to 2ft in length and 4lbs, but typically half this size
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: N/a
  • IUCN Status: NE (Not Evaluated)
  • Distribution: Widespread distribution across deep waters around Europe and North America. Main British and Irish populations are found to the west of Ireland and north of Scotland.
  • Feeds on: Small fish.
  • Description: Small fish with relatively large head and mouth, which is dark inside (hence the name). Eyes are also large. First dorsal fin is spined and joins directly into second and the spines contain venom. Pectoral fins are large with distinct rays and tail is small and straight edged. Colour is anything from light pink to red to a coppery orange with broad lighter coloured bars running down the flanks. Usually there is a large dark mark on the gill covers.

The bluemouth rockfish is a small predatory fish which has a very wide distribution around the world. They are a little known species to UK anglers and there is currently no shore caught record, although the boat caught record has stood since the 1970s.

Distribution and Habitat

Although the bluemouth rockfish can be found in waters around fifty metres deep they are much more common at depths of 150-400 metres, and can be found beyond 1000 metres. They are a demersal (bottom-dwelling) fish which generally live and feed over sandy and shingle seabeds and avoid rockier areas. Bluemouth rockfish have a wide distribution, being found throughout European waters. They are found in the Mediterranean and Black Sea and around most of the coastline of the African continent. They are also found northwards as far as the Norwegian Sea and the waters around Iceland and Greenland. They are also found along the eastern coast of the USA and Canada down to the coast of Florida and the Caribbean and into the waters of South America as far as Brazil. In Britain they are found to the north of Scotland in and around the Faroe-Shetland Channel and off the west coast of Ireland in the Rockall Trough, however, they do also turn up in other deep-water areas elsewhere around the British Isles.

Diet and Behaviour

The bluemouth rockfish is an ambush predator which lies in wait for smaller fish to come by, rather than pursuing and hunting down fish. It is capable of surprisingly fast bursts of speed over short distances and can easily dart out to catch fish which pass by. They are aggressive little predators that will have a go at pretty much any fish they can fit into their mouth, and will also eat crustaceans and squid on occasion.

Bluemouth Rockfish

A bluemouth rockfish, feeding on a smaller fish, the tail of which can be seen protruding from its mouth.

The spines in the dorsal fin of the bluemouth rockfish contain venom. The fish does not use these to attack prey and they are purely a defensive measure. However, there has been little research into the effect that the venom has on humans.

Commercial Value

While the bluemouth rockfish is edible it is not in demand as a food fish. Major fisheries avoid this species and are likley to discard any which are caught as bycatch, with only small scale individual fishermen targeting this species to sell as food. There is little information available on stocks of bluemouth rockfish or how resilient this species will be if commercial exploitation of this species increases – something which may be likely due to the declining stocks of more traditional food fish. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) class the bluemouth rockfish as a species of Least Concern, although it is unknown whether the population of this species is increasing or declining.

British Records

There is no shore caught record for this species (with the qualifying weight set at 1lb) but they are caught by rod and line anglers on boats from some areas on an almost regular basis. The boat caught record is held by Anne Lyngholm who caught a 3lb 2oz bluemouth rockfish while fishing in Loch Shell, Stornoway, Scotland in 1976.

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