Wolffish: What you need to know

Three species of wolffish, often called catfish, are now protected under the Canada's Strategy - Species at Risk Act (SARA). As a group, they are easy to recognize due to their unique appearance, but it is more difficult to distinguish the three species.

Under SARA, they are listed as:

(likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction)

(likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction)

Wolffish

(a wildlife species that may become a threatened or endangered species because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats)

Their status under SARA dictates the manner in which they are protected, and how they are to be handled when captured accidentally. This identification card can help you identify wolffish when caught as bycatch.

Like all animals, wolffish play an important role in the ecosystem of the ocean, and their survival depends on all of us. Releasing wolffish with care in the place where they were caught will help their populations recover.

Abundances of all three wolffish species have declined off eastern Canada during the past 20 years. Threats to wolffish include bycatch mortality in commercial fisheries and disturbance of their marine habitat.

(also known as broadhead wolffish, bull-headed catfish, broad-headed catfish, Arctic wolffish, and jelly cat)

The head is small relative to the body. Pectoral fins and gill openings are also small. The body colour is more uniform for all sizes, ranging from dark grey to dark brown to purplish black. Indistinct dark spots are possible, but rare. Flesh is jelly-like. On dead wolffish you can see the Palatine teeth on the upper jaw extend farther backwards towards the throat than Vomerine teeth (see diagram).

northern wolffish

Sara status: threatened

Size: Up to 144 centimeters long and weighs up to 20 kilograms.

On dead wolffish you can see the Palatine teeth on the upper jaw extend farther backwards towards the throat than Vomerine teeth.

(catfish, spotted catfish, leopardfish)

The head is large relative to the body, with dark spots on fins and body. Juveniles are greyish brown (sometimes with a purplish colour), and adults range from yellowish brown to greyish brown to dark brown. Flesh is firm. On dead wolffish you can see the Vomerine teeth on the upper jaw extend backwards towards the throat as far as Palatine teeth (see diagram).

spotted wolffish

Sara status: threatened

Size: Up to 150 centimeters long and weighs up to 22 kilograms.

On dead wolffish you can see the Vomerine teeth on the upper jaw extend farther backwards towards the throat than Palatine teeth.

(catfish, ocean wolffish)

The head is large relative to the body, with vertical stripes on fins and body. Juveniles are yellowish brown with olive green fins, and adults range from yellowish brown to slate/purplish blue. Flesh is firm. On dead wolffish you can see the Vomerine teeth on the upper jaw extend farther backwards towards the throat than Palatine teeth (see diagram).

Atlantic or striped wolffish

Sara status: special concern

Size: Up to 152 centimeters long and weighs up to 22 kilograms.

On dead wolffish you can see the Vomerine teeth on the upper jaw extend farther backwards towards the throat than Palatine teeth.

For more information, please contact your nearest DFO office or visit:

Aquatic Species at Risk
Species at Risk Public Registry

This document is also available for downloading or viewing as a PDF: Wolffish - What you need to know [PDF - 1.5MB]

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada
DFO/2005-845
Cat no.: Fs23-490/2005E
ISBN: 0-662-41790-9