Wolffish

Anarhichas lupus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Longline
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Iceland
Stock detail — 5a
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Wolffish

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated October 2019.

The main targeted fishery for Atlantic wolffish is in Iceland, and UK is one of its main markets alongside France, Germany and Holland. Outside of this, it would seem that most of the Atlantic wolffish in the UK comes as bycatch from other fisheries. Wolffish is a slow growing fish, vulnerable to the effects of overfishing. While there are some data available for the stock, there are no official assessments or reference points for stock biomass. However, harvestable biomass is the highest on record and fishing pressure is below or at sustainable levels (FMSY). There are few management measures in place other than catch limits and spawning season and area closures. However, a Harvest Control Rule is expected to be brought in in 2019 or 2020. Meanwhile, recent catches have been in line with advice. Longlining is the main gear used to catch Atlantic Wolffish, accounting for 59% of catches in 2018. Demersal trawling has declined in recent years and now accounts for 18% of catches, while Danish or demersal seine has increased, accounting for 23%. In Iceland in general, while longlining does catch seabirds, it is likely that it is not contributing to a decline in populations (which is more likely to be owing to reductions of prey species, such as sandeels). Bottom trawling is known to be the main cause of sediment smothering and abrasion in Iceland (destruction of habitats such as sponges and corals), although as trawling has generally declined, these impacts are also lessening. The impacts of Danish seine are generally considered to be low, as it does not have a significant impact on the seabed. 100% of the Icelandic wolffish fishery is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Biology

Atlantic wolffish are found in colder, often Arctic, waters, at around 1-5 degrees. They live on rocky seabeds at depths of 15-350 metres. They are slow growing, and slow to reproduce; the warmer the water, the longer females take to reach maturity. They mature at around 50cm, aged 6-7 years, and can grow to 1.5metres. They have low resilience to fishing pressure and in the Baltic Sea are listed as Endangered on the HELCOM Red List, although the species hasn’t yet been assessed for the IUCN Red List. Around Canada and Newfoundland, it is listed as ‘Special Concern’. The main threats are pressure from fishing (direct catch and bycatch), destruction of habitats from bottom trawling, and warming waters from climate change - increased water temperatures have been recorded around Iceland.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

While there are some data available for Atlantic Wolffish, there are no official assessment or reference points for stock biomass. However, harvestable biomass is the highest on record and fishing pressure is below or at sustainable levels (FMSY). The species has low resilience to fishing pressure.

Iceland’s Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI), is responsible for carrying out stock assessments and providing scientific advice for Atlantic Wolffish in Iceland. Harvestable biomass declined from 2006-2013 but has since increased, and is now close to the highest level in the assessment history. Fishing mortality has been below or close to FMSY (0.3) since 2014 - in 2018 it was 0.302. Recruitment has been low since 2006 compared to the previous two decades, so biomass is not expected to continue to increase in the near future.

MFRI advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in the fishing year 2019/2020 should be no more than 8,344 tonnes - the lowest advice since 2015/16, although similar to previous years. 2018/19 advice was for catches of no more than 9,020t. MFRI recommends a continued closure of the spawning area west of Iceland during the spawning and incubation season in autumn and winter.

In the most recent assessment, estimates of harvestable biomass changed, suggesting underestimation of biomass in 2015-2018 and an overestimate of fishing mortality in the same period.

Management

Criterion score: 0.5 info

There are few management measures in place other than catch limits and spawning season and area closures. However, a Harvest Control Rule is expected to be brought in in 2019 or 2020. Recent catches have been in line with advice.

In Iceland, part of the Atlantic wolffish’s main spawning area, west of Iceland, was closed in 2002 during its spawning and incubation time in autumn and winter, and the closed area was expanded in 2010. It was only in 2010 that the closure became effective in reducing the number of juveniles being caught. Other than this, no management plan is in place. Until 2013, Icelandic Total Allowable Catches for this fishery were set above the scientifically recommended limits. Thereafter, TACs were set in line with recommendations, and catches have been more or less in line with TACs. A Harvest Control Rule (HCR) is expected to be brought in in 2019, and more formal assessments through ICES are expected to follow after that. 100% of the Icelandic wolffish fishery is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, and has been since 2017. As of 2019, it is part of a joint certification with Tusk (Brosme brosme), Blue ling (Molva dypterygia), Ling (Molva molva), European plaice (Pleuronectes platessa), Saithe (Pollachius virens), and Golden redfish (Sebastes marinus / Sebastes norvegicus). One of the conditions on the certification is that an HCR is brought in for the wolffish fishery.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Longlining is the main gear used to catch Atlantic Wolffish, accounting for 59% of catches in 2018. Demersal trawling has declined in recent years and now accounts for 18% of catches, while Danish or demersal seine has increased, accounting for 23%. In Iceland in general, while longlining does catch seabirds, it is likely that it is not contributing to a decline in populations (which is more likely to be owing to reductions of prey species, such as sandeels). However, bycatch of fulmar and great black-backed gull does happen, and there is a condition on the MSC certified fishery to reduce bycatch of these species. Discarding of commercial species is prohibited by law in Iceland, and there are measures in place requiring a minimum mesh size and/or sorting grids to allow small fish to escape. Bottom trawling is known to be the main cause of sediment smothering and abrasion in Iceland (destruction of habitats such as sponges and corals), although as trawling has generally declined, these impacts are also lessening. The impacts of Danish seine are generally considered to be low, as it does not have a significant impact on the seabed.

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish, White
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia

References

Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2019.FishBase: Anarhichas lupus, Atlantic wolffish. Available at https://www.fishbase.se/Summary/SpeciesSummary.php?ID=2501&AT=atlantic+wolffish [Accessed on 17.10.19].

Gunnarsson, A, 2014. Atlantic wolf-fish Anarhichas lupus population diversity: growth and maturation. J Fish Biol. 2014 Feb; 84(2):339-53. doi: 10.1111/jfb.12288.

Hughes, J.R. 2007. Anarhichas lupus Wolf fish or Catfish. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Available at https://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/detail/1747 [Accessed on 17.10.19].

Iceland Responsible Fisheries, 2019. Management approach and supplementary measures. Available at: https://www.responsiblefisheries.is/seafood-industry/fisheries-management/management-approach-and-supplementary-measures [Accessed on 17.10.2019].

ICES, 2018. ICES Ecosystem Overviews: Baltic Sea Ecoregion. Version 2: 21 January 2019. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2018/2018/BalticSeaEcoregion_EcosystemOverview.pdf [Accessed on 17.10.2019].

MFRI, 2019. MFRI Assessment Reports 2019: Atlantic wolffish. Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, 13 June 2019.. Available at https://www.hafogvatn.is/static/extras/images/09-AtlanticWolffish%20(1)1141514.pdf [Accessed on 17.10.2019]

MFRI, 2019. State of Marine Stocks and Advice 2019: Atlantic Wolffish, Anarhichas lupus. Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, 13 June 2019, Available at https://www.hafogvatn.is/static/extras/images/09-AtlanticWolffish%20(1)1141514.pdf [Accessed on 17.10.2019].

MSC, 2017. Press Release: Iceland adds world's 1st MSC certified tusk, wolf fish and blue ling to its portfolio. October 9, 2017. Available at https://www.msc.org/media-centre/press-releases/iceland-adds-world-s-1st-msc-certified-tusk-wolf-fish-and-blue-ling-to-its-portfolio [Accessed on 17.10.2019].

MSC, 2019. Marine Stewardship Council: ISF Iceland saithe, ling, Atlantic wolffish and plaice. Available at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/isf-iceland-saithe-ling-atlantic-wolffish-and-plaice/@@view [Accessed on 17.10.19].

Noack, T., Madsen, N., Wieland, K., Stepputtis, D., & Krag, L. A., 2016. Danish seine - Ecosystem effects of fishing (gear performance trials). Poster session presented at ICES Annual Science Conference 2016, Riga, Latvia. Available at https://orbit.dtu.dk/files/128365236/Danish_seine.pdf [Accessed on 17.10.2019].