• Scientific name: Zoarces viviparus
  • Also know as: European Eelpout, Viviparous Blenny
  • Size: Exceptionally up to 50cm but typically under 25cm
  • UK minimum size: 8ins/20cm
  • UK shore caught record: 368 grams
  • IUCN status: NE (Not Evaluated)
  • Distribution: All around the UK but as it is a cold water species it is more common in the north.
  • Feeds on: Molluscs, marine worms, prawns and fish eggs.
  • Description: Elongated eel-like body. The dorsal fin is long and runs the full length of the back. The tail fin is small and merges with anal fin. Pectoral fins are rounded and quite large. Relatively large mouth with noticeable lips. Colour generally mottled brownish with black stripes on the dorsal fin and dark spots on flanks. Underbelly is pale white/yellowish. Skin is slimy and scales are so small that the body looks scaleless.

Despite its name, the eelpout is not an eel, nor is it related to the pouting. To add to the confusion it is also known as the viviparous blenny but is not related to the fish UK anglers will know as a blenny! The eelpout can therefore be seen as a perfect example of the confusing naming patterns of UK sea fish.

An eelpout in its natural environment.

The eelpout is in fact a small fish which live in shallow, inshore waters down to around fifty metres deep. Like many fish of this size it is a scavenger which will feed on whatever food sources it can find. While the very largest eelpout may hunt small fish the majority of eelpout are less than thirty centimetres in length and therefore spend a lot of time avoiding becoming the prey of larger species such as cod, bass and pollock. Eelpout can be found across a wide range of seabeds but prefer some form of weed or rock cover and therefore avoid large, open and sandy beaches. Being a cold water fish the eelpout is more common on the northern coasts of England and all around Scotland and is not commonly found in the English Channel or surrounding waters. Although common it is not a usual catch by anglers due to its generally small size. Larger eelpout can be caught on smallish hooks and worm, fish, squid or crab baits, although numbers may be under-reported due to angler confusing this fish with a rockling species. It is only LRF anglers around the UK who specifically target and catch this species. Eelpout have minor commercial importance in some Europe countries but have no commercial value in the UK.

Reproduction and Live Birth

The eelpout has a very unusual reproductive pattern. They breed in the summer by internal fertilisation which is unusual for fish species. Once pregnant the eggs grow and hatch inside of the female, and the young then suckle nutrients from ovarian follicles within the body of the female. After six months there will be several hundred young within the female eelpout which will give viviparous (live) birth to the young, as the profile picture at the top of this page shows. This is a huge advantage to the young eelpout as they will already be several centimetres in length when they are born, as opposed to the young of other species which have hatched from eggs and will only be millimetres long. This gives the eelpout a relatively high survival rate when young, and explains why this species is fairly common in colder waters all around Europe.