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Spotted wolffish Anarhichas minor Olafsen 1774 [14]


[Jordan and Evermann, 1896-1900, p. 2446.]

Spotted wolffish (Anarhichas minor)

Figure 268.—Spotted wolffish (Anarhichas minor), off La Have Bank. From Goode. Drawing by H. L. Todd.


This species resembles the common wolffish closely in its general form and in the arrangement of its fins. The chief difference is that while the central ("vomerine") band of teeth on the roof of the mouth is longer than the band on either side ("palatine") in the common wolffish, these bands are of about equal lengths in the spotted wolffish, and its teeth are described as red in life, not white. Furthermore, the rear end of its dorsal fin is abruptly indented close to the base of the tail, with its last 3 to 6 spines much shorter than those further forward, while the rear end of the dorsal is evenly rounded in the common wolffish.

Color is, however, the most convenient field mark for the spotted wolffish, its pale olive or chocolate[15] upper parts together with its dorsal and caudal fins, being thickly sprinkled with blackish brown spots, of different sizes and of irregular shapes.


Notwithstanding its Latin name this is fully as large a fish as the common wolffish, said to grow to a length of 6 feet. One 37 inches long weighed 13 pounds, eviscerated.

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Very little is known of its habits. Its diet is much the same as that of its more common relative. But it is said to keep to rather deeper waters, having been caught as deep as 200 to 240 fathoms off Banquereau Bank[16], to 200 fathoms in the eastern Atlantic. And its geographic range (see below) shows that it is confined to colder water than is the common wolffish.

General range—

Chiefly north of the Arctic circle; north coast of Russia, White and Barents Seas, and Iceland, south to middle Norway (vicinity of Bergen) on the European coast; Greenland; and southward occasionally to the Gulf of Maine on the American coast.

Occurrence in the Gulf of Maine—

Goode and Bean's[17] statement that "the Fish Commission has specimens from off the mouth of Gloucester Harbor and from Eastport, Maine," long remained the only notice of this northern fish for the Gulf of Maine,[18] and fishermen of whom we have inquired have either never seen it there or they have failed to distinguish it from the common wolffish, which is unlikely, so striking is its color pattern. But the late Walter Rich, of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries, obtained a specimen that had been taken in 35 fathoms off Cape Elizabeth (now in the collection of the Portland Society of Natural History); another, weighing 31/4 pounds was caught on a long line off Portland lightship, on April 23, 1927. Evidently this wolffish reaches our Gulf only as an accidental waif from its Arctic home, one to be watched for but hardly to be expected.

It appears to occur regularly off outer Nova Scotia however, though in small numbers. Thus 5 to 10 are usually landed at Boston each year from Sable Island Bank; we have records of 7 caught there in 1934;[19] one was brought in many years ago from 200 fathoms from the deep gulley between Sable Island Bank and Banquereau; and one from 250 fathoms from the northeast slope of the latter bank.[20] Another was taken on Banquereau in 50 fathoms, in 1932;[21] three were taken on Western Bank in 1937;[22] five more were definitely reported from Banquereau. in that same year; and McKenzie[23] writes that half a dozen are brought in from that general region yearly.

With so many records for Nova Scotian waters it is astonishing that the spotted wolffish has not been reported at all in the Gulf of St. Lawrence so far as we can learn, nor is it mentioned among the fishes listed in Newfoundland waters or off outer Labrador from the experimental trawlings by the Fishery Research Commission of Newfoundland.

[14] Jordan, Evermann and Clark (Rept. U. S. Comm. Fish. (1928), Pt. 2, 1930, p. 472) place this species in the genus Lycichthys Gill 1876; but it seems preferable to follow the older usage here.

[15] The general ground tint has been variously described.

[16] Bean, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. 3, 1881, p. 82.

[17] Bull. Essex Inst., vol. 11, 1879, p. 11.

[18] Goode's (Fish. Ind. U. S., Sect. 1, 1884, p. 249) statement that it has been seen in the Bay of Fundy apparently refers to this Eastport record.

[19] Bigelow and Schroeder, Bull. U. S. Bur. Fish., vol. 48, 1936, p. 337.

[20] Bean, Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. 3, 1881, p. 82.

[21] Vladykov, Proc. Nova Scotian Inst. Sci., vol. 19, pt. 1, 1935, p. 3.

[22] McKenzie and Homans, Proc. Nova Scotian Inst. Sci., vol. 19, 1938, p. 279.

[23] Proc. Nova Scotian Inst. Sci. vol. 20, pt. 1, 1939, p. 18.