The wolffish is distinguishable by its ability to produce natural antifreeze to keep their blood fluidly moving in their cold habitat. They are also known for their unique appearance, the large size of their eggs and both the female and male in brood. The body of the wolffish is sub-cylindrical and long and compressed in the head. It is also slippery and smooth with the rudimentary scales embedded and almost hidden in their skin. They vary in color but most are blueish-gray, purplish-brown, or a dull olive green. The dorsal fin extends the entire length of their back with a similar fin from the caudal fin to the vent. With their eel-like body, it helps the wolffish swim slowly and undulate from side to side, much the same an eel does. The juvenile wolffish are a tawny brown but they do have the dark vertical bars of their parents.
One distinguishing factor that sets this fish apart is its extensive teeth structure. The upper and lower jaws have four to six fang-like conical teeth that are very strong. In the upper jaw behind these conical teeth are three rows of crushing teeth. On the top jaw the outer rows have blunted conical teeth with the central row having four pairs of molars. On the lower jaw you will find two roles of molars behind the conical primary teeth. Their throat is also scattered with serrated teeth.
This fish can weigh up to 50 pounds and lengths of five feet but most are smaller than this. Some of the names this fish have include:
- Wolf Eel
- Sea Wolf
- Atlantic Catfish
- Devil Fish
- Ocean Catfish
According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the wolffish is currently a Species of Concern. The numbers of these fish in the United States waters are being depleted rapidly. It is most likely due to bycatch, which is when a fish is caught unintentionally while catching other fish, or from overfishing.
Where to Find a Wolffish
The wolffish is native to the North Atlantic Ocean, both the east and west coasts. In the West Atlantic you can find them as far north in the Canadian territory of Nunavut in the Davis Strait. Here they populate the shores of Nova Scotia, Greenland, and Newfoundland, going as far south as Cape Cod. They have been seen south of Cape Cod, but there have been a few sightings in New Jersey. You will find the densest population of the wolffish in the Great South Channel, Gulf of Maine, and Georges Bank
In the Eastern Atlantic, you will find that they range from Russia’s Novaya Zemlya and White Sea through the British Isles, Nordic countries to the Bay of Biscay. The wolffish are general stationary fish and rarely move from their rocky homes. They like to live on the hard ocean floor. They will frequently be seen in small caves and nooks where they like to hide. A wolffish prefers cold water at the depths of 66 to 1640 feet with water temperatures of 30 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Catch a Wolffish
Because they are a species of concern, most do not specifically target these fish when they go fishing. If you are fishing for them, look for the areas mentioned above to find them. Sometimes when you are fishing for cod, haddock, or other fish that would be in that area you will catch a wolffish as a bycatch.
Best Bait for Wolffish
You can catch a wolffish with just about any bait but the most popular one to use is clams. They can also be caught using artificial lures, primarily deep spoons or jigs. You will need to use a solid 10-20 ounce lead sinker to hold the bait near the bottom where they stay. Fish is not a part of a wolffish diet so most lures mimic small fishes so you want to use artificial lures that do not mimic small fish.
What do Wolffish Eat?
Because Wolffish have such strong jaws and all those teeth, they like to eat hard shell crustaceans, mollusks, and echinoderms but they do not eat other fish. They are also know to chow down on cockles, sea clams, large whelks, starfish, large hermit crabs, and sea urchins.
Another thing that is distinguishable about wolffish is the way they fertilize their eggs. Instead of the female depositing her eggs into the ocean for the male fish to fertilize, the eggs are fertilized internally. The male wolffish is the one that stays with the nest and is the one that protects the eggs for up to four months. When they are strong enough to be independent on their own, then he will leave. The eggs are 5.5 to 6.0 mm in diameter, which makes them the largest eggs known. They are tinted yellow and are opaque. The eggs are laid on the ocean floor, generally in shoal water. They stick together in loose clumps and are surrounded by stones and seaweeds. They mature at about age six.
Fun Facts about a Wolffish
- The wolffish is an important factor in controlling the populations of the sea urchin and green crab. Without the wolffish, the sea urchin and green crab would become overly disruptive to other habitats.
- The population of the wolffish is also an important indicator of the healthy populations of bottom-dwellers like the Atlantic cod.
- When it is sold as a food fish, it could be known also as Scarborough Woof or Scotch Halibut Woof.
- Because the numbers of wolffish have been depleted over the years, it is very rare for you to catch one if you are a shore angler.
- They are generally a solitary fish but not territorial. They only get with other wolffish when it is time to spawn.
- They are called a wolffish because their teeth resemble that of a wolf.
- Even though they have those sharp teeth, they are not dangerous to humans. They are shy and reclusive so they will most likely swim away from a diver if they see one in the water.
- You can turn the skin of the wolffish in to a type of leather.
- Some of their teeth prominently project from their mouth.
Can You Eat a Wolffish?
Yes, wolffish are good fish to eat. They are commercially valued and are sold to shops, restaurants, and customers who visit the fish market, particularly the fish and chip shops north of England. It is generally sold skinned and de-boned filets instead of as a full fish. The reason is that some customers would be put off by what this fish looks like. The wolffish is a good source of high-quality fish oil.
How to Cook Wolffish
To cook wolffish, you can do it in the same way you would do with other lean fish. The only way you should not cook wolffish is grilling it because it will stick to the grill, even if you try to grill it on aluminum foil or special grill pads. The flavor of the wolffish is very delicate so make sure that you keep the seasonings to a minimum. All you really need is a squirt of lemon juice and a sprinkle of pepper and salt.
This recipe uses one pound of wolffish fillets along with two tablespoons of melted butter. It is baked in the oven, set at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put a sheet of foil or parchment paper on a baking sheet and put the fish in the center. Pour the melted butter over the fish and then squeeze the lemon over it. Fold the foil or parchment paper over the fish to form a packet and crimp the ends shut to make it sealed. It might be easier to use aluminum foil as it is easier to mold into the shape you want. Bake your fish for 10 to 12 minutes or until the fish flakes with a fork and is opaque in color. It is now ready to eat.
It is an easy fish to bake but one thing to note is that it has a high fat content that will come out from under the skin membrane while it is baking. This will cause the wolffish to shrink some as it cooks. Wolffish has its own distinct taste so it is best served with simple vegetable so what you are serving with the fish will not overpower the taste of the wolffish. If you have bought some frozen wolffish, make sure that it has thawed before baking it. You can thaw it overnight in the refrigerator. If you want to marinade your fish before baking it, try to leave in the marinade for at least an hour in the refrigerator.
To learn more about preparing wolffish, visit Seafood Source.
Although you can eat this fish, it is better as a catch and release fish. This is mainly due to the fact it is a specimen of concern. This means it could be at some time in the future a fish that is on the verge of extinction. If you do catch one and are taking it off the hook, you have to be careful. When it is being removed from the water, they will try to defend themselves by snapping with their teeth so you have to be careful how you handle them. Their teeth are strong enough to break bones. If you are ever in the area where these fish live, you should try to charter a boat and go out to the deep water to fish for them.
They are a feisty fish and will give you a run for your money if you hook one. It will be a great experience to share with your friends and family. If you do have a chance to try this fish for a meal, make sure that you do. Being a specimen of concern, it may not be available for long as a food fish.
Be sure to check out our other article: How to Catch a Golden Trout