- Scientific name: Cyclopterus lumpus
- Also know as: Lumpfish, Sea Hen, Henfish
- Size: Up to 60cm
- UK minimum size: N/a
- UK shore caught record: 20lbs 9oz
- IUCN status: NT (Near Threatened)
- Distribution: Can be found in deeper water all around the UK but more common in the northern areas of the British Isles. Populations extend throughout Europe and are also present in American and Canadian waters.
- Feeds on: Worms, prawns, small fish, jellyfish and pretty much anything else it can find.
- Description: Oval shaped fish with a high, thick body which is scaleless. There are rows of bony ridges running along the body and the first dorsal fin can have short spines protruding from it. Second dorsal fin, anal fin and pelvic fins are relatively large and have noticeable rays running through them. The ventral fins on the belly of the fish are joined together to create a powerful suction pad which the lumpsucker can use to attach itself to rocks. Colour is generally a combination of dullish blue,grey or green. However, in the spring breeding season the males change colour and become a brighter blue around the dorsal fin with red around the fins.
Possibly the least graceful fish in British waters, the lumpsucker is a strange fish which is rarely caught by sea anglers. With their high, oval body they are a slow and cumbersome swimmer which scavenges for any food it can find on the seabed, and will use whatever speed they can muster to try and hunt and fish which come within close range. Lumpsuckers are so called as their ventral fins join together to form a disc which acts as a sucker. This means that this species can stick itself to rocks, even in strong tidal conditions. They are generally a deeper water fish, being found on rocky seabeds at depths between fifty and several hundred metres deep.
As a cold water fish the lumpsucker is common in the waters of Iceland, Greenland and Scandinavian countries and in the Baltic Sea, with its range eastwards to the coastline of Russia and the Kara Sea. It is found throughout the North Sea and the North Atlantic, but is absent from the Mediterranean and the coast of North Africa. Separate populations are found off the eastern coasts of the USA and Canada.
Feeding and Reproductive Cycle
As a slow moving fish the lumpsucker is an opportunistic feeder. They will scavenge for dead fish on the seabed and also feed on any prawns, shrimps and crustaceans they come across and will try and hunt small fish or squid. The lumpsucker comes into much shallower inshore waters to breed in the spring and early summer months (during this time they can sometimes be found washed up on beaches). They will dig a small indentation in sheltered area in a sandy or shingle seabed and the female will lay the eggs. The male will stay by the eggs for several weeks and use his fins to fan water over the eggs to aerate them, an action which is necessary for the eggs to hatch. The male will also attack any other fish which come near and threaten the eggs. In the 1800s it was thought that the males would look after and care for the young once they had hatched (hence the names Sea Hen and Henfish). While the scientists of the 1800s over-exaggerated the extend to which the male cares for the young it is the case that some of the young may attach themselves to their father to be carrier around for the first few days of their life, before detaching themselves and fending for themselves. The young of the lumpsucker which stay in shallower water and can sometimes be found temporarily trapped in rock pools at low tide.
Anglers and UK Records
Due to lumpsuckers staying in deeper water this species is a rare catch for the shore angler. They do show up occasionally in catches and the shore caught record is a huge lumpsucker of just over twenty pounds, caught by A.J. Perry (who was just fifteen years old at the time) on Weymouth Pier in Dorset in 1987. The boat caught record is a fish of just half the size at 10lb 12oz caught in the River Tyne estuary the previous year. There cannot be many other species where the shore caught record is double the boat caught record!
Unsurprisingly, the unattractive looks of the lumpsucker, along with the name, make it a difficult fish to sell commercially, although there is a limited market for the flesh in Iceland and a number of Scandinavian countries. Lumpsuckers have also been used in fish farms as immature lumpsuckers (those between a few ounces and one pound in weight) will eat the parasitic sea lice which damage stocks of salmon and other valuable fish. In 2016 Norwegian seafood company Lerøy Seafood Group stated that they had funding to look into developing a market for lumpsucker as a food fish. The company aims to take lumpsuckers which have grown too big to eat lice for fish farms and then export the fish to Asia for human consumption. The eggs of lumpsuckers are also edible and often passed off as inexpensive (or fake) substitute for caviar.
Overall numbers of lumpsucker have declined in recent decades. This is thought to be through a combination of increasing catches of this species, bycatch and habitat destruction. As a nesting fish the lumpsucker is particularly vulnerable to trawling. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature class the lumpsucker as a species which is Near Threatened.