Atlantic Wolffish

Anarhichas lupus

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

Description

The Atlantic Wolffish (Anarhichas lupus) is the most abundant of the three wolffish species in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. It has powerful canine-like teeth at the front of both jaw bones. Its head is large (relative to the body) with a large mouth and rounded snout, small eyes and a long, stout body with large pectoral fins, but no pelvic fins. Atlantic Wolffish colouration can vary, depending on the environment, from slate blue to dull olive green and their upper body typically has ten or more irregular stripes. The Atlantic Wolffish can grow to 150 cm in length.

Habitat

The Atlantic Wolffish is widely distributed on both sides of the North Atlantic and in the Arctic. In the northeastern Atlantic, it occurs from Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the North Sea to the Barents Sea and the White Sea. In the western North Atlantic, it occurs nearly continuously from Davis Strait to Cape Hatteras. In Canadian waters, the Atlantic Wolffish occurs off Baffin Island, in the Labrador Sea, off Newfoundland, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, on the Scotian Shelf, in the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine. This species is very rare in the northern part of its range (the Arctic). Of the three wolffish species, the Atlantic Wolffish is the species that is commonly distributed in both inshore (nearshore and bays) and offshore areas. It prefers colder water temperatures between 0.5 and 3°C and is usually found at depths between 100 and 500 m. The Atlantic Wolffish can be found on a variety of bottom types, from sandy to stony, with large rocks or boulders present. Its diet consists mainly of brittlestars (a form of starfish), sea urchins, crabs, and shrimp.

wolfish

Figure 1. Map displaying the approximate distribution of the Atlantic Wolffish (adapted from the 2012 Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessment on the Atlantic Wolffish Anarhichas lupus in Canada).

Map displaying the distribution of the Atlantic Wolffish. The extent of the map is 40 to 70 degrees North latitude. Atlantic wolffish are found from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA in the south, throughout the waters surrounding Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Newfoundland and extending to the northern tip of Labrador. The map is based on the COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Atlantic Wolffish (Anarhichas lupus) in Canada (2012).

Threats

The main threat to Atlantic Wolffish is bycatch in fisheries targeting other species. Climate change could also affect the distribution and abundance of Atlantic Wolffish.

Further Information

The Atlantic Wolffish is listed as Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act. A joint recovery strategy for Northern and Spotted Wolffish and Management Plan for Atlantic Wolffish was published in 2008 with the main goal being to increase the population levels and distribution of Atlantic Wolffish such that long-term viability of the population is achieved. Some means to accomplish this are: to improve the knowledge of Atlantic Wolffish biology and life history; to identify, conserve and protect their habitat; to mitigate human impacts on their habitat and survival; to promote growth and recovery of the population; and to develop and deliver educational programs to promote their conservation and recovery.

Visit the Species at Risk (SARA) Public Registry.

Atlantic Wolffish

Illustration of a redfish

Illustration of an Atlantic Wolffish viewed from the side. The Atlantic Wolffish is light grey with dark grey vertical bars across its body. The mouth is large with protruding canine-like teeth. The body is elongated and the head is large in comparison to the body. The fin along the back (the dorsal fin) extends from the head all the way to the tail fin and the fin on the bottom of the fish (the anal fin) extends from the middle of the belly all the way to the tail fin. The tail fin is small and the side fins (pectoral fins) are large.

SARA Status: Special Concern (June 2003)
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern (November 2000; November 2012)
Regions: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island

Did You Know?

Mature Atlantic Wolffish move inshore to spawn in spring and summer. They set up nesting sites on boulders and in rocky crevices at depths <40 m. The male of each mating pair guards the egg cluster (“nest”) through late summer and early fall until all eggs hatch.

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