Species Profile

Spotted Wolffish

Scientific Name: Anarhichas minor
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
COSEWIC Range: Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2012
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: Met criteria for Endangered, A1b, but designated Threatened, A1b, because there have been increases in abundance and area of occupancy since the mid-1900's, in parallel with a reduction in the threat due to fishing.
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This species underwent strong declines from the late 1970s until the mid 1990s, but since then there has been some recovery over most of its Canadian range.  This is indicated by both increases in abundance and area of occupancy.  These increases parallel a reduction in bottom fisheries that had a high incidental catch of this species, as well as introduction of recovery measures including mandatory release.  While these recent increases are encouraging, the species is still at low levels compared with the beginning of the research surveys.  
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in May 2001. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2012.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Spotted Wolffish

Spotted Wolffish Photo 1

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Description

Wolffish are large marine fishes characterised by prominent, canine-like teeth in the front of the jaws, an elongate body and the lack of pelvic fins. The Spotted Wolffish has a large head and a rounded snout and a long dorsal fin. It is yellowish or greyish brown to dark brown, with several distinct spots on its body. The species can be distinguished from the other two species that occur in the Atlantic by its dark spots on the body, and its firm musculature. It may reach a length of 150 cm.

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Distribution and Population

The Spotted Wolffish is found across the North Atlantic from Scotland to Cape Breton and in the Arctic Ocean. In the western North Atlantic, it occurs primarily off northeast Newfoundland. Since 1978, scientific surveys in the western Atlantic indicate a 96% decline in the Canadian population of Spotted Wolffish over 21 years (equivalent to 3 generations of wolffish). The species is also found in significantly fewer survey stations.

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Habitat

The Spotted Wolffish occurs in cold (lower than 5OC), open continental shelf and slope waters between 50 and 600 m deep, over sand or mud bottoms often with big boulders close by.

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Biology

The Spotted Wolffish is a bottom-dwelling predatory fish that feeds mainly on echinoderms such as starfishes, but also eats crustaceans, molluscs and other fish. It spawns in summer by depositing its large eggs in a mass on the sea bottom. The young remain mostly associated with the bottom, and do not disperse very far. The adults appear to make only limited, perhaps seasonal, migrations. Growth rates are slow, and fish do not become mature until they are 7 to 10 years of age.

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Threats

Although the Spotted Wolffish is not targeted by the fishing industry, it is taken as by-catch by offshore trawlers. Groundfish trawls also accidentally kill or maim individuals. Bottom trawling for fish and dredging for scallops and clams damage spawning habitat by disturbing rocks and boulders used for shelter and construction of nests. In addition, the bottom sediments are resuspended, smothering spawning areas and damaging gills.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Spotted Wolffish is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The federal Fisheries Act prohibits destruction of fish habitat.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Northern Wolffish (Anarhichas denticulatus) and Spotted Wolffish (Anarhichas minor), and Management Plan for Atlantic Wolffish (Anarhichas lupus) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Team

Wolffish Recovery Team

  • David Kulka - Chair/Contact - Fisheries and Oceans Canada
    Phone: 709-772-2064  Fax: 709-772-5469  Send Email

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

255 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Status Report on the Spotted Wolffish (Anarhichas minor) in Canada (2013-11-06)

    The Spotted Wolffish is a fish in the family Anarhichadidae. It gets its name from its large conical teeth. It is an elongate fish with a large head and rounded snout. It is yellowish or greyish brown to dark brown with numerous dark spots on its body. It has a long dorsal fin and no pelvic fins.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Spotted Wolffish (2013-12-18)

    This species underwent strong declines from the late 1970s until the mid 1990s, but since then there has been some recovery over most of its Canadian range.  This is indicated by both increases in abundance and area of occupancy.  These increases parallel a reduction in bottom fisheries that had a high incidental catch of this species, as well as introduction of recovery measures including mandatory release.  While these recent increases are encouraging, the species is still at low levels compared with the beginning of the research surveys. 

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Northern Wolffish (Anarhichas denticulatus) and Spotted Wolffish (Anarhichas minor), and Management Plan for Atlantic Wolffish (Anarhichas lupus) in Canada (2020-02-27)

    Four species of wolffish (family Anarhichadidae) inhabit Canadian waters: Anarhichas denticulatus (northern), A. minor (spotted) and A. lupus (atlantic) in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, and A. orientalis in the Arctic Ocean only. In May 2001, A. denticulatus and A. minor were assessed by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) as “threatened” due to declines in their abundance and biomass. This assessment applies to species likely to become “endangered” if limiting factors are not reversed, while “endangered” refers to species facing imminent extirpation or extinction. COSEWIC indicated that over three generations the abundance of these two species had declined by over 90% and extent of distribution had decreased. Specific threats identified by COSEWIC included bycatch mortality in commercial fisheries and habitat alteration by trawling gear. A third species, A. lupus, was assessed by COSEWIC as “special concern”, suggesting that it is particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events but is not endangered or threatened at this time. All three wolffish species where included in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) at the time of the Act’s proclamation in June 2003.

Action Plans

  • Action plan for the Northern Wolffish (Anarhichas denticulatus) and Spotted Wolffish (Anarhichas minor) in Canada (2020-02-27)

    In May 2001, the Northern Wolffish (Anarhichas denticulatus) and the Spotted Wolffish (Anarhichas minor) were assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as Threatened (COSEWIC 2001a,b). A third species, the Atlantic Wolffish (Anarhichas lupus), was assessed by COSEWIC as Special Concern in November 2000 (COSEWIC 2000). All three wolffish species were included in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) at the time of the Act’s proclamation in June 2003. In November 2012, COSEWIC reassessed the three species and recommended that their status remain unchanged (COSEWIC 2012a,b,c). Therefore, under SARA, the status of all three species also remained unchanged. While this action plan is focused specifically on Northern and Spotted Wolffish, the recovery actions will likely benefit the Atlantic Wolffish as well.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for Atlantic Wolffish (Anarhichas lupus) and Recovery Strategy for the Northern Wolffish (Anarhichas denticulatus) and Spotted Wolffish (Anarhichas minor) in Canada (2020-02-27)

    Four species of wolffish (family Anarhichadidae) inhabit Canadian waters: Anarhichas denticulatus (northern), A. minor (spotted) and A. lupus (atlantic) in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, and A. orientalis in the Arctic Ocean only. In May 2001, A. denticulatus and A. minor were assessed by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) as “threatened” due to declines in their abundance and biomass. This assessment applies to species likely to become “endangered” if limiting factors are not reversed, while “endangered” refers to species facing imminent extirpation or extinction. COSEWIC indicated that over three generations the abundance of these two species had declined by over 90% and extent of distribution had decreased. Specific threats identified by COSEWIC included bycatch mortality in commercial fisheries and habitat alteration by trawling gear. A third species, A. lupus, was assessed by COSEWIC as “special concern”, suggesting that it is particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events but is not endangered or threatened at this time. All three wolffish species where included in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) at the time of the Act’s proclamation in June 2003.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report – 2012-2013 (2013-09-24)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2012 to September 2013) from November 25 to November 30, 2012 and from April 28 to May 3, 2013. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 73 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2012-2013 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 2 Endangered: 28 Threatened: 19 Special Concern: 19 Data Deficient: 4 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 73 Of the 73 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 50 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing licence(# 19-­PNFL-­00015 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-06-18)

    At beach and demersal spawning sites of capelin, 220 adult capelin (males and females combined) will be collected daily from each site, up to a total of 4400 fish (i.e. 20 samples) in Notre Dame Bay and up to a total of 2200 fish (i.e. 10 samples) in Placentia Bay. Capelin eggs will also be sampled at beach and demersal spawning sites of capelin using a bottom grab (demersal) and by hand (beach). Eggs (~200 eggs) will be placed in plastic canisters perforated with holes and wrapped in mesh. Canisters (n=10/site) will be anchored at each site and reared to hatch. In Placentia Bay, Notre Dame Bay and Trinity Bay, this field-rearing experiment will be conducted at 4 spawning sites per bay, resulting in the collection of a maximum of 8,000 eggs/larvae per bay (n=2000 eggs/larvae per site, n=4 sites per bay). At beach and demersal spawning sites of capelin, larvae and zooplankton (e.g., copepods, amphipods, euphausiids) will be sampled using cone nets. The plan is to sample 4 sites per bay (Placentia & Notre Dame bays) and anticipate 5-20 larvae per tow based on previous sampling, resulting in a maximum of ~2400 larvae per bay (5-20 larvae/tow, 30 tows/site, 4 sites per bay). Humpback, Fin and Minke whale skin/blubber will be sampled using a pneumatic darting system with a hollow-tipped biopsy dart and each whale will be photographed for individual identification. Based on population size estimates of whales from previous years, a maximum number of 20 biopsy samples for Minke Whales, 20 for Fin Whales and 30 for Humpback Whales is expected across all three bays (Trinity, Bonavista and Notre Dame Bay), resulting in a total of 70 whales. Non-invasive short-term tags will be applied using suction cups that rest on the skin and measure the movement patterns of the whales. Tags remain on the whale for a period of ~8-24 hours after which they release. Based on previous efforts, I expect a maximum number of 10 tags/species across all three bays (Trinity, Bonavista and Notre Dame Bay), resulting in a total of 30 whales.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#18-PNFL-00009), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2018-09-26)

    Cod Sentinel work is used to develop indices that are included in stock assessments for Northern (2J3KL) cod and for 3Ps cod. Fishers will set ten (10) gillnets with a minimum mesh of 5.5 inches (140 mm) and a maximum length of 50 fathoms (91.5 m) each; two (2) monofilament gillnets with a mesh size 3.25 inches (83 mm) and a maximum length of fifty (50) fathoms (91.5 m); hook and line using a minimum hook size of 16J, up to a maximum of 1000 hooks; two (2) hand lines with up to three (3) feather hooks per line (for catch, tag and release purposes). All gear must be set in accordance with the fishing plan established by the project coordinator.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#18-PNFL-00016), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2018-09-26)

    Contracted fishers will set a fleet of 51 cone shaped baited traps with a 5.5" mesh to capture Snow Crab. Where required, an additional pot with 1" mesh size will be inserted at location 4 of the fleet to collect information on recruitment and size distribution. Logbooks and samples kept during this time are used to update the snow crab stock assessment and provides information on post season catch rates and recruitment of crab. Only crab required for scientific purposes will be retained. All other crab will be released in a manner which causes the least harm once the observer has recorded the required information.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-­PNFL-­00003 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-05-01)

    Mark and recapture (tagging) of Atlantic Cod. This is a large scale, continuing project carried out in inshore areas throughout NAFO management areas 2J3KLP4R.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-­PNFL-­00016 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-07-01)

    At two sites in Trinity Bay (Hickman's Harbour and New Harbour) a fleet of 5 standardized herring gillnets will be set late in the day and hauled the next morning at dawn 2-4 times a month for four months for a total of 12 samples. Hand line with lure will be used for opportunistic jigging of herring. At Bellevue Beach, a fleet of gill nets will be set overnight and hauled the next morning at dawn to sample juvenile herring < 15 cm. This sampling will be opportunistic in July and August when the capelin larvae are emerging into the nearshore area. This sampling will occur up to 5 times and a sample of up to 50 juvenile herring will be kept. A beach seine will be attempted at Bellevue Beach if juvenile herring are close to shore. A sample of 50 herring will be kept from a maximum of 3 samples in July and August.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-­PNFL-­00017), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-06-25)

    Sampling of sediments and organisms living on the seafloor (benthos), seawater sampling and sampling of organisms living in the aquatic environment such as fish and plankton will be carried out. Species to be sampled include micro and mesozooplankton (mostly copepods), fish larvae (Arctic Cod, Sculpins, Snailfish, Alligatorfish, Lumpfish, and Sand Lance), macrozooplankton (amphipods, chaetognaths, decapods, pteropods, jelly fishes, ctenophores), pelagic fish (mostly juvenile Arctic Cod), benthic fauna (polychaetes, bivalvesostracods, ophiuroids, amphipods, cold water corals and sponges). This project is divided into 5 segments for a total of 104 days at sea. Leg 1a will be from Quebec City to St. Anthony NL, leg 1b from St. Anthony NL to Iqaluit, leg 2a from Iqaluit to Pond Inlet, leg 2b from Pond Inlet to Resolute Bay, and leg 3 from Resolute Bay to Quebec City.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-­PNFL-­00025 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-10-01)

    In order to complete a selenium in fish tissue study it is proposed that up to 30 Fukui pots; baited with mackeral or squid be set to capture up to 20 flounder of a single species (Winter Flounder, Yellowtail Flounder or American Plaice). The flounder will be dissected and tissue samples will be submitted for analysis of selenium concentrations. Fishing will occur in an exposure area (within 100 m of the final discharge point) and a reference area (~ 2 km west of the final discharge point). If catches of flounder are low in the Fukui pots, two baited longlines with approximately 50 hooks per longline, will be set in each area. The longlines will utilize swivel gear and circle hooks to reduce the potential of fish swallowing the hooks and causing mortality. Fish surplus to the study requirement and unintended by-catch will be released alive. Fishing activities will cease when 10 flounder of a single species are caught from the exposure and reference areas (20 fish total). The fishing activity will take place in Long Harbour, Placentia Bay, NL (NAFO are 3PS), aboard a 21 foot, open fiberglass boat.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-­PNFL-­00026 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-11-12)

    An acoustic survey will be conducted inshore Bonavista Bay and Trinity Bay over a 40 day period of November 12 to December 20, 2019 to capture Atlantic Herring using a commercial purse seine vessel. Atlantic Herring will be targeted using an echosounder. 50-100 Atlantic Herring samples per set, maximum 20 sets will be collected using a capelin or herring purse seine.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-­PNFL­-00001 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-04-01)

    A fleet of 5 gillnets of varying mesh sizes will be set for a period of 45 days between April 1 and June 1, 2019 to capture Atlantic Herring. Logbooks and samples kept during this time will be used to update the long­running herring research gillnet program time series index of abundance, which is the main abundance index used in the stock assessment of this species.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-­PNFL­-00002 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-04-01)

    A fleet of 5 gillnets of varying mesh sizes will be set for a period of 45 days between April 1 and July 31, 2019 to capture Atlantic Herring. Logbooks and samples kept during this time are used to update the long­running herring research gillnet program index of abundance, which is the main abundance index used in the stock assessment of this species.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-­PNFL­-00014), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-06-07)

    Fishing activities will be undertaken to complete a prescribed offsetting works monitoring program for a port facility in Long Harbour, Placentia Bay, NL. Fishing activities will not target specific species. Rather fishing activities will seek to identify the species (and abundance of individual species) which are utilizing the constructed offsetting habitat and natural habitat. Fishing at natural habitat and offsetting habitat locations will allow comparisons between these areas to determine the efficacy of constructed habitat. Fishing activities will utilize a variety of baited traps (modified whelk pots, lobster pots, char traps, fukui traps) and larval settlement traps. No nets, trawls or baited lines will be used in carrying out fishing activities. Captured fish will be identified to species, enumerated, morphological measurements taken and released live within the area of capture.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-­PNFL­-00024 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-10-01)

    This project is looking at the effects of climate change (different temperatures and pH) on shrimp from 5 different populations to test for possible local adaptations. The population from Shrimp Fishing Area 6 was selected because of its commercial importance and colder habitat relative to the other populations in the study. A commercial shrimp vessel and crew will be chartered. The charter is expected to last 24-48 hours and the plan is to fish about 10-12 trawl sets within 10-12 hours. Each set will be short, around 3 to 5 minutes, to avoid large catches. A scientist will be onboard to select shrimp with a good probability of survival. Other shrimp and incidental species will be released quickly.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PMAR-00021), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-06-07)

    A licence has been issued to fish Atlantic halibut and other groundfish for Scientific, Experimental, or Education purposes within the Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area. This activity is part of the annual Halibut Longline Survey which is used to monitor the health of the Atlantic Halibut and other groundfish populations in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. The benthic longline gear used in this survey consists of many baited hooks attached to a mainline, which is anchored to the seafloor at either end. Incidental capture of Leatherback sea turtles, Northern wolffish, Spotted wolffish or White sharks is a possible, but unlikely occurrence.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PNFL-00004), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-05-01)

    Sentinel Surveys of Atlantic Cod. This is a large scale, continuing project carried out in inshore areas throughout NAFO management areas 2J3KLP4R.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PNFL-00005), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-05-01)

    This lobster monitoring project is a large scale, continuing project conducted throughout NAFO management areas 2J3KLP4R in inshore areas. Harvesters will measure and record information about their commercial catch of lobster, and also record information from a modified lobster trap.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PNFL-00011 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-02-01)

    The proposed activities are for scientific research. These activities entail harvesting, collecting, sampling, capturing, enumerating, performing biopsies, and/or tagging finfish, shellfish, and marine plants for scientific, research, and educational purposes.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#19-PNFL-00020), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-08-20)

    A post season Snow Crab survey will be conducted in predetermined locations throughout NAFO division 2J3KLP4R over a 104 day period of August 20 to November 30 to capture Snow Crab using commercial 5.5"mesh size crab pots constructed in accordance with commercial regulations using biodegradable twine. Where required, an additional pot using a mesh size of 1" will be inserted at location 4 of the fleet to collect information for a recruitment study and size distribution. No crab other than that from small-mesh pots required for scientific purposes will be landed. Crab from all other pots will be released in a manner that causes least harm, after the observer has recorded the required information. The data collected from this survey, will be utilized for the stock assessment process and to provide information on Snow Crab post season catch rates and recruitment. Incidental capture of wolffish is unlikely, however, if any are encountered they will be released without harm.
  • >> See more Permits and Related Agreements documents

Critical Habitat Orders

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Recovery Document Posting Plan - Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Fiscal Year 2016-2017 (2018-09-28)

    Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the competent Minister(s) must prepare a recovery strategy within one year of listing a species on Schedule 1 of SARA as endangered and within two years of listing a species as extirpated or threatened. A management plan must be prepared within three years for a species listed as special concern. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is accountable for 111 of the 518 species listed under SARA. As of February 2016, proposed recovery strategies, management plans and action plans for 57 of those species have not yet been posted to the Species at Risk Public Registry. An additional 23 aquatic species have proposed management or action plans coming due in the future. The following outlines the Department’s plan for posting proposed documents for 64 species on the Species at Risk Public Registry. The Department has a plan to post recovery strategies for 9 species, management plans for 13 species, and action plans for 42 species over the next year. Original publication of the Recovery Document Posting Plan: 2016-05-02
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