2008 Annual Report
Gulf of Maine Research Institute

Spotlight on Science

Researchers Study the Lives of Wolffish

Even though an Atlantic wolffish is not likely to end up on a restaurant menu, their populations are of great concern to the Gulf of Maine fishing community. Wolffish, with an eel-like body and mesh of spiky teeth, are primarily caught inadvertently in the Gulf, but these unintentional landings may have large impacts on their numbers.

Wolffish have been declared a “species of concern” by the National Marine Fisheries Service. This designation is intended to spur research and voluntary conservation efforts. Little is known about wolffish, so Gulf of Maine Research Institute Scientist Shelly Tallack teamed up with Elizabeth Fairchild of the University of New Hampshire, commercial fishermen, and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to learn more about these fish.

Shelly and Elizabeth and their team of technicians and interns have spent the early days of summer 2011 at sea on Stellwagen Bank, tagging and releasing wolffish. They believe that wolffish, although usually solitary, collect around Stellwagen Bank in June before dispersing. Tagging the fish allows the team to study their movement behaviors and learn more about their life history and why they may be aggregating in this location. The researchers also study the age, growth patterns, and reproductive capabilities of the fish. Any wolffish caught during the study is given a tag with a unique identification number as well as the program’s contact information. The wolffish are released back into the ocean. If a tagged fish is caught, it is hoped that the fisherman will report the recapture to the team. Commercial fishermen are vital partners in this project, providing their boats and trawl nets to the scientists during the tagging process, then collecting data on recaptured fish.

Tagged fish can tell scientists the story of where wolffish go upon leaving Stellwagen Bank and help determine the overall health of the population. Better data about the lives of wolffish may help fishermen avoid landing them in the future and also inform decisions about how to manage the species at a sustainable level.

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