Conservation Groups Seeks Protection For Ugly Wolffish

October 2, 2008

A petition filed with the federal government will benefit a ferocious-looking fish that can gobble up whole urchins and crabs in a few swift bites.

The Conservation Law Foundation asked to have the Atlantic wolffish – a species with large protruding teeth and a face that’s downright ugly ““ listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The Boston-based conservation group said the wolffish, also known as an ocean catfish, is under pressure from commercial and recreational fishermen and could be wiped out if nothing is done.

“The fishing pressure is going to continue to haunt this fish right down to extinction unless something is done,” said Peter Shelley, the foundation’s vice president.

The wolffish lives along the rocky ocean bottom in 250- to 400-foot waters off New England. They can grow up to 5 feet long and weigh up to 40 pounds. Their powerful jaws and teeth can crush lobsters, urchins, clams, scallops and crabs.

The conservation group says that although commercial fishermen don’t target the fish, fishing nets and dredges that are dragged along the ocean bottom have destroyed much of the fish’s habitat, diminishing both their numbers and range.

Shelley said although the fish is ugly, it is tasty and can be found at some seafood retailers and on the menus of upscale restaurants.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has listed the fish as a “species of concern,” calling the stock overexploited and severely depleted.

An endangered status for the wolfish could result in additional restrictions on New England fishermen, who are already tightly regulated. Measures to reduce wolffish mortality could range from simply throwing them back to area closures, the conservation group says.

Commercial fishermen in the area are not thrilled about the possibilities.

“They always have to find something to go after us,” said Angela Sanfilippo, executive director of the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership in Gloucester, Mass.

Image Courtesy Conservation Law Foundation

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