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:

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.

Northern Wolffish

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

Sara status: Threatened

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

northern wolffish

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.

Spotted Wolffish

(catfish, spotted catfish, leopardfish)

Sara status: Threatened

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

spotted wolffish

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.

Atlantic or Stiped Wolffish

(catfish, ocean wolffish)

Sara status: Special concern

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

Atlantic or striped 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.

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

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