Ocean Pout, Zoarces americanus

The ocean pout has antifreeze proteins in its blood so it is able to survive in water temperatures ranging from freezing to 50 degrees “F” in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. Primarily off the eastern coast of Canada and New England, it lives where the ocean floor is hard and in depths ranging up to 1200 ft. or more. Seldom, this species is caught where the ocean floor is sandy or muddy.

The ocean pout is similar to an eel with a long slender body, which is flattened slightly from side to side and has a pointed tail. The body is covered with very small scales, with a slimy coating, and is soft to the touch. The body color can vary in different shades of brown, yellow, or olive, and some have tints of orange and salmon, but the predominant color is darker shades of yellow. Whatever the body color is, all ocean pout will have dark spots and vertical stripes. The belly of the ocean pout varies from dark shades of white, yellow or pink.

The dorsal fin (top fin) begins at the head and runs all the way down the back where several small spines are between the dorsal and tail. The anal fin (bottom fin) begins at the center of the body and continues down the underside of the fish and connects with the tail. The mouth of the ocean pout is wide with the upper jaw slightly overhanging the bottom jaw and has two rows of cone shaped teeth on each jaw. The average size of this fish is 22 inches in length and weighs 2 ¼ lbs. Though some have been captured 38 inches long and weighing 11 ½ lbs., it is rare.

The diet of the ocean pout consists of a wide variety of bottom dwellers, mainly mollusks, crustaceans, and invertebrates, but will also feed on sea scallops, sea urchins, barnacles, whelks, and periwinkles (sea snail). A large ocean pout was caught from Massachusetts Bay; when the stomach was opened it was full of spider crabs.

Ocean pout spawn in September and October, with the female laying 1,000 – 4,000 eggs depending on the size of the fish. The eggs are ¼ inch in diameter, yellow in color, and are held tightly together by a gelatin-like substance. The eggs will hatch with-in 3 months and for the entire incubation period one or both parents will guard the nest, usually in crevices on the rocky floor.

When hatched the larvae are 1inch in length and will grow to 4 – 5 inches in the first year. In the second year growth will slow considerably, gaining only an inch or two, but the ocean pout can double in size by the third year. The cold water is a factor in the growth rate as the fish ages and an adult fish of 10 – 12 years will be fully grown and be around 22 inches; though some older fish have been over 30 inches in length. The life span of the ocean pout is generally 12 – 16 years.

The ocean pout has a sweet tasting meat but is rarely fished commercially. In the early 1940’s there was a high demand for this species commercially, but it was learned that the meat often contained a parasite and a reduction in demand slowed the commercial taking of this fish. The last recorded statistic for a commercial haul on this species was in 1948, where 6,100 lbs. were taken in.

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinopterygii

Order: Perciformes

Family: Zoarcidae

Image Caption: Ocean Pout at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Mass. Credit: Steven G. Johnson/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)