While the common ling (also known as the white ling) is by far the most well known species of ling there are actually two other species of ling in British waters – the blue ling and the Spanish ling. While the common ling lives and feeds in offshore waters it is a regular catch for rod and line anglers fishing on boats. The blue and Spanish ling however, live in much deeper waters (all the way down to over one thousand metres), meaning they are rarely encountered by even boat anglers.
- Scientific name: Molva dypterygia
- Size: Up to 5ft and 30lbs
- IGFA world record: 39lb 3oz
- Distribution: Found in deep waters around Europe, Greenland and North America. UK/Irish distribution found in the Rockall Trough west of Ireland and the Faroe-Shetland Channel to the north of Scotland.
- Feeds on: Fish found around the seabed such as small cod, haddock and flatfish, will also eat crustaceans and squid.
- Description: Long, eel-like body. Long, slim fins and short first dorsal fin and long second dorsal fin. Colour is generally brown to greyish (despite the name there is only a hint of blue) with a paler underside. The mouth has a protruding lower jaw and small, sharp teeth, and the eyes are very large.
The blue ling has a fairly widespread distribution, being found in the Mediterranean, around Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland and in American and Canadian waters. Around the British Isles it is found mostly in the deep waters of the Rockall Trough and the Faroe-Shetland Channel, as well as a small number of other isolated areas. Blue ling appear to be more common at depths of 500 – 1000 metres, although they have been observed at depths substantially deeper than this. Like the common ling, the blue ling feeds by hunting fish and squid, as well as crustaceans. The body of the blue ling is similar in shape to that of the common ling and the main differences are that the blue ling has larger eyes and a much smaller barbule (the barbule is shorter than the diameter of the eye, whereas in the common ling it is much longer than the eye diameter). The pelvic fins are also much longer and slimmer than those of the common ling. Due to the great depths at which blue ling live they are not captured on rod and line in UK waters, even by boat anglers. However, there is an International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record listed for this species. In 2018 Alf Ronny Karbo caught a 39lb 3oz blue ling from Bomlafjorden in Norway.
Commercial Value and Conservation Status
Blue ling are commercially valuable and are caught in deepwater trawls. The flesh is edible and sold for human consumption in some European countries, but some blue ling which are caught end up being used for fishmeal. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classes blue ling as a species which is Vulnerable within European waters. This is because catches have declined decade on decade, and until very recently fishing for this species was almost totally unregulated. A further issue is that trawlers often target this species when blue ling are congregating to spawn, hitting the chances of new generations of this species coming through. These concerns have led to protected areas for this species around Iceland and plans for additional areas closed to commercial blue ling fishing throughout EU waters during the breeding season. In 2016 the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition – an international organisation representing around sixty charities and conservation groups – stated that the fishing for blue ling should be stopped completely in European waters due to concerns over the long-term stability of blue ling stocks.
- Scientific name: Molva macrophthalma
- Also known as: Mediterranean Ling
- Size: Up to 4ft and 20lbs
- Distribution: Found in the north east Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea.
- Feeds on: Like the blue ling, the Spanish ling feeds on smaller fish and squid.
- Description: Like all of the ling species the Spanish ling has a long, eel-like body with a small first dorsal fin and much longer second dorsal fin. Pectoral and pelvic fins are long and trailing. Colour is light and can vary between reddish to orange with pale speckles with a paler underside. Both dorsal fins and the anal fin are black with white edges, as is the tail fin. Eyes are large and barbule is present, and the mouth is full of small, sharp teeth.
The Spanish ling is unsurprisingly found in seas closer to the equator and in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, although it is occasionally found in and around the deep-water trenches to the west of the British Isles. The Spanish ling comes into shallower water than the blue ling, but still stays offshore in waters deeper than fifty metres and can be found all of the way down to well over one thousand metres. The Spanish ling is also a predator which will feed on all manner of small fish, squid and cuttlefish that it can find, and will also eat crustaceans. This species has little commercial value and is not targeted specifically by fisheries, although Spanish ling caught as bycatch may be retained, usually to be turned into fishmeal. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature class this as a species of Least Concern.