This section features 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.
- 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 when fully mature may also take very small fish.
- Description: 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.
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 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 abundance 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 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 with Norway and Denmark accounting for the majority of these catches.
This level of fishing intensity was 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.
- 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: No record set. Minimum qualifying weight set at 12oz.
- IGFA record: 1lb 13oz
- 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 is 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. Blue whiting are generally 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 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. 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 found in the southern hemisphere.
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 a demand for this species. Blue whiting 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. These catch levels could not be sustained and soon blue whiting stocks crashed and urgent action was required to stop further decline. However, with blue whiting being a wide-ranging fish which is distributed between the territorial waters of various counties, reaching agreements on stock management has been a difficult process and there is pressure to maintain catches at high levels.
In 2010 the total allowable catch for blue whiting was was 548,000 tons. This was reduced to just 36,000 tons in 2011 in an attempt to allow stocks to recover and then raised back up to 643,000 tons in 2013. The decline of blue whiting has had significant knock-on effects. The Faroe Islands and Iceland have expensively constructed pelagic (mid-water) fishing fleets which have switched to fishing for mackerel due to the decline of blue whiting. This has led to the 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 the open ocean there is unsurprisingly no shore caught record for this species, and the qualifying weight is set at 12oz. 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. The International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record is a blue whiting of 1lb 13oz in 1998 at Drobak in Norway by Trond Raade.
- Scientific name: Brosme brosme
- Also know as: Cusk, Brismak, Torsk, Lumb
- Size: Up to 50lbs
- UK minimum size: N/a
- UK shore caught record: No record set. Qualifying weight set at 3lbs.
- IGFA world record: 37lb 14oz
- 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. The 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. The 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. It 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 around Scotland and down to the north east of England, as well as off the western and northern coasts of the Republic of Ireland.
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 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 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 live for up to thirty years.
Commercial Value and Conservation Status
Although uncommon and mostly unheard of in the UK, 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 stocks 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 Marine 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 are still major problems with tusk being caught on long lines and as bycatch.
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 lower commercial pressure, although there is a lack of accurate information about the stock levels. Tusk is currently classed as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), although this is likely to change once this species is re-evaluated.
Confusion with Other Species
British and IGFA Records
As of November 2019 there is no shore caught record listed for this species. The qualifying weight is set at 3lbs. There is a boat caught record. A tusk of 15lb 12oz was caught by H. Foster off the Shetland Islands in 2005. The International Game Fish Association list the all-tackle world record as a tusk of 37lb 14oz caught by Anders Jonasson at Soroya, in Norway in 2008.
- Scientific name: Sebastes viviparus
- Size: Up to 2ft in length
- UK minimum size: N/a
- UK shore caught record: 1lb 3oz
- IUCN Status: NE (Not Evaluated)
- Distribution: Widely distributed deep water fish. Found waters to the north of Scotland and Ireland and also around Iceland, Greenland and in Scandinavian waters.
- Feeds on: Small fish, prawns and crustaceans.
- Description: Stout bodied fish which is an orangy/red colour once fully 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 single dorsal fin is spiked at the start and rounded towards the end. The tail fin is relatively large and straight-edged.
The Norway haddock is a relatively deep living fish being found at depth of several hundred metres all the way down to over 1000 metres although it will be found in shallower water when they are young, where they mostly feed on small prawns and crustaceans. As they get older they head into deeper water and their diet changes to be made up mostly of other fish. Norway haddock is a gregarious species which lives in groups or shoals on the seabed. This species is too small to be of interest to fisheries but it can be inadvertently caught in deep water trawls meant for larger species. It has not been evaluated by the IUCN and there is little information known about the state of stock levels.
Confusion With Rose Fish
This species is often confused with the larger rose fish (Sebastes norvegicus). Both are found in similar deep-sea environments and both have the name Norway haddock applied to them. Rose fish have a wider distribution and are found along the coast of North America. They are also much more valuable as a commercial fish and subject to targeted commercial fishing. There is currently no shore caught or boat caught record for the rose fish.
Despite its rarity, the Norway haddock has both a British 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.
- Scientific name: Helicolenus dactylopterus
- Also know as: Blackbelly Rosefish, Bluemouth
- Size: Up to 2ft in length and 4lbs, but typically half this size
- UK minimum size: N/a
- UK shore caught record: No record set. Qualifying weight set at 1lb.
- IGFA world record: 5lb 3oz
- IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)
- 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 a relatively large head and mouth, which is dark inside (hence the name). Eyes are also large. The 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 British 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 the 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 but 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 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.
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.
While the bluemouth rockfish is edible it is not in demand as a food fish. Major fisheries avoid this species and are likely 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.
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 occasional 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. The IGFA world record was set by Jess Bradford Cadwallender who caught a 5lb 3oz bluemouth rockfish in 2009 at Norfolk Canyon, Virigina.