- Scientific name: Molva molva
- Also known as: Common Ling, White Ling
- Size: Up to 6ft and 70lbs. Shore caught typically 2-5lbs.
- UK minimum size: 25inches/63cm
- UK shore caught record: 21lb 10oz
- ICUN Status: DD (Data Deficient)
- Distribution: Common all around the British Isles, especially the northern areas in deep, offshore waters.
- Feeds on: Primarily fish, but will take crustaceans on occasion.
- Description: Looks like a cross between a cod and a conger eel. Long, eel-like body which is usually brown to green on the back and pale on the underside with speckled flanks. Very long chin barbel. First dorsal fin is short, usually with a dark spot. Second dorsal fin is very long, as is the anal fin. Mouth full of sharp teeth.
- Additional notes: This article is about the Common Ling. There are two other species of ling that live in very deep offshore waters around the UK: the Blue Ling and the Spanish Ling.
Looking like a mix between a cod and a conger eel, ling are a hard fighting species which is predominantly found in deeper, offshore waters. They have a powerful body with long fins, large eyes and a mouth full of sharp teeth – the perfect attributes for hunting fish in deep water. Ling are fairly common around all of the UK, although as their major spawning ground is near Iceland they are more common around the northern and western parts of the British Isles. Their range extends throughout Europe as they are also present throughout Scandinavian and Icelandic waters, and the Mediterranean, although only in small, isolated areas. There are also very limited populations off the southern tip of Greenland and in some areas off the coast of America and Canada.
Ling spawn in spring and are therefore less commonly caught at this time of year, but are caught fairly regularly throughout the rest of the year. Female ling will lay millions of eggs and once they have hatched the immature ling will live in shallower water for the first year or so, before heading to offshore waters where they live for the rest of their life. Once in deeper water ling will hunt any fish they can find such as herring and mackerel in mid-water, and cod, pouting and flatfish near the seabed. While fish make up the vast majority of the diet of a ling, they will occasionally eat crustaceans such as crab or lobster if this source of food is present. Generally, ling prefer hunting around rocky and broken ground, and are often targeted by charter boats over wrecks.
Being closely related to cod the ling is an edible fish. Although it is not a popular food fish in the UK, it is more commonly eaten in the rest of Europe. Ling is sold on wet fish counters where it can be filleted and baked or fried, while it is also used in processed fish products and can also be sent to be turned into fishmeal. Ling are targeted by commercial vessels using trawls, although long lines are also used in some European fisheries. As ling is a deep water species it has its swim bladder seriously damaged by being reeled up through the depths, meaning that boat-caught ling cannot be returned to the sea. It is a good idea for boat anglers to therefore stop fishing for this species when they have caught enough ling for the table. Although it is generally believed that stocks of ling are in reasonably good shape (certainly compared to other species such as cod or haddock) the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) states that there is not enough information to assess ling stocks, and therefore classes them as a species which is Data Deficient.
Confusion with Other Species
Many anglers are not aware that there are two other species of ling present in British and Irish waters – the blue ling (Molva dypterygia), and the Spanish ling (Molva macrophthalma). Both are very deep water species which are seldom encountered by even boat anglers. Despite its name, the fish known as the lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus), which is unique to the western coast of North America is not related to either ling or cod found in UK waters. Ling can also be confused with both hake and tusk, as all of these species have the same elongated, eel like body and live offshore in deeper water. For a diagram explaining how to differentiate between these three species click here.
Methods and Techniques to Catch Ling
Ling are a deep-water species, seldom coming into water less than thirty metres deep, and usually found around heavy and broken ground in depths down to 300 metres. Ling are therefore a species mostly targeted by boat anglers who hold this species in high regard for its fighting qualities and the relatively high chance of catching a large 20lb plus fish. Generally large fish baits and pirks are used to catch ling from boats. The boat-caught record for ling was broken in 2013 with a 67lbs specimen caught by angler James Isbister fishing off the coast of the Shetland Islands. However, it is possible to catch ling from the shore, although they are highly likely to be the small and undersized specimens which have yet to make their way into deeper waters, a fact highlighted by the fact that the shore caught record is a specimen of 21lb 10oz – less than a third of the boat caught record. Ling are most likely to take fish and crab baits meant for other species, and fishing into deep water from the end of a long pier or a rock mark offers the best chance of catching a shore-caught ling.