Greater Forkbeard

Greater Forkbeard
  • Scientific name: Phycis blennoides
  • Also known as: Forked Hake, Blennoid Forkbeard, Sweaty Betty, Plus Fours
  • Size: Up to 3ft and 7lbs.
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: 2lb 12oz
  • IGFA world record: 7lb 12oz
  • ICUN Status:
    • Global: NE (Not Evaluated)
    • Europe: DD (Data Deficient)
  • Distribution: Found throughout Europe in deep water.
  • Feeds on: Smaller fish and crustaceans.
  • Description: Elongated body covered in large silvery scales. Can have red/brown tinge around the head and flanks. First dorsal fin is very high with the first ray extended into a long, trailing point. Second dorsal fin and anal fins are long, at around half the length of the body, and may have black or dark edges. Pelvic fins are also extremely elongated, trailing half the length of the body. Barbule is present on chin.

The greater forkbeard is an unusual fish which is seldom encountered by anglers and little known by the general public. Despite its relative obscurity there is a limited market for this species as a food fish throughout Europe. There is also a British shore and boat caught record, as well as an IGFA world record for this species.

Distribution and Habitat

Greater Forkbeard Distribution
Greater Forkbeard Distribution

Greater forkbeard are found throughout European waters. They are at the edge of their northward distribution in the Norwegian Sea and the waters of Iceland, while their range extends southwards through the North Sea and North East Atlantic as far as the coast of Senegal in Africa. They are also present in the western parts of the Mediterranean.

Habitat and Feeding

This species is usually found in deeper offshore waters of several hundred metres, with the largest fully grown specimens moving into even deeper water. They can be found across a range of different seabeds, from rock and coral to sand and mud. Smaller greater forkbeards feed on marine worms, dislodged shellfish and small creatures such as prawns and shrimps and may be found in shallower coastal waters. Larger greater forkbeard may also hunt small fish and squid. It is believed that this species is most active at night.

Rod Caught Records

Until 2012 there was no British shore caught record for this species, with the qualifying weight set at 1lb. However, in August 2012 13-year-old Morgan Parry caught a greater forkbeard from the Rat House Corner mark near Roker Pier in Sunderland. The weight of the fish was eventually verified as being 2lb 12oz 12drams and registered as the official UK shore caught record. The boat caught record – a specimen of 4lb 11oz – was caught in 1969 in Falmouth Bay in Cornwall by Miss M. Woodgate. The International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record was set by Susan Holgado who caught a greater forkbeard weighing 7lb 12oz when fishing from the Strait of Gibraltar in 1997.

Greater Forkbeard as a Commercial Fish

Being related to cod and hake the greater forkbeard is edible and has some commercial value. It is caught in demersal trawls and white it may sometimes be discarded at sea or made into fishmeal it is also retained to be sold as a food fish. It is eaten in a number of southern European countries and there have been attempts to widen the appeal of this species as a food fish. This BBC News article describes how an Irish fishmonger has tried to sell greater forkbeard under the name of ‘Sweaty Betty’ which was previously only used by commercial fishermen.

Little research has been carried out into the stock levels of greater forkbeard. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classes this species as Data Deficient in Europe. However, the Marine Conservation Society has given this species its highest rating of 5 meaning it is a fish to avoid eating. This is because it is a relatively deep water species which has low resilience to commercial fishing pressure and the deep-sea trawls which are used to fish these areas cause severe damage to underwater ecosystems and the wider marine environment.