Lota lota
Burbot

Burbot

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods

.

Name:

  • Lota, from the old French, la lotte, "codfish"
  • Other common names include: American Burbot, Cusk, Dogfish, Eelpout, Freshwater Cod, Freshwater Codfish, Freshwater Crusk, Gudgeon, Lawyer, Ling, Lingcod, Loche, Lush (Alaska), Maria, Methy, Mother Eel, Mud Blower, Spineless Catfish, Lake (Swe)

Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Chordata, animals with a spinal chord
    • Subphylum Vertebrata, animals with a backbone
      • Superclass Osteichthyes, bony fishes
      • Class Actinopterygii, ray-finned and spiny rayed fishes
      • Subclass Neopterygii
      • Infraclass Teleostei
        • Superorder Paracanthopterygii
        • Order Gadiformes, cod and hake
          • Family Lotidae, cusk fishes
            • Genus Lota, burbot and eelpout
  • The North Country's only freshwater representative of the primarily ocean-dwelling Codfish Family.

Description:

  • An ugly, eel-like freshwater cod of deep waters and nightmares
  • Length
    • typically 15"-22"
    • can reach 46"
  • Weight
    • typically 1-3 lbs
    • can weigh over 12 lbs
  • Coloration
    • back and sides dark olive or brown with dark mottlings; adults may be dark brown or black
    • belly white, cream, or pale yellow
    • fins similar in color to adjacent body parts
  • Body
    • slender, elongated, and cylindrical
    • smooth skinned and slimy, with minute scales
    • dorsal fin divided
      • short first dorsal lobe of 8-16 soft rays
      • long, low, second lobe of 61-81 rays.
    • anal fin of 52-76 fin rays; nearly as long as second dorsal fin
    • pelvic fins of 5-8 rays in the throat area slightly ahead of pectoral fins
    • tail fin rounded, separated from both dorsal and anal fins
    • scales present, but so small as to be nearly invisible, except on large adults
  • Head
    • wide, flattened head
    • small eyes
    • single large barbel on chin
    • barbel-like tube from each nostril
  • Lifespan 10-15 years

Identification:

  • Unlike anything else in North Country waters. Distinguished by:
    • short forward dorsal fin paired with long rearward dorsal fin
    • long anal fin, nearly equal to the second dorsal fin in length
    • wide, flat head
    • single chin barbel

Distribution:

  • Cold fresh waters of North America, from the Arctic Ocean to the northern US; also continental Eurasia
  • The only exclusively freshwater codfish

Habitat:

  • Deep, cold waters of lakes and rivers. Prefers to be near the bottom in areas of low light intensity (usually in the deepest water available).
  • Also inhabits areas with aquatic vegetation, rock piles, submerged logs, and other underwater structures.
  • Migrates late winter and early spring, after spawning, from lakes to tributary rivers.

Foods:

  • A rather reclusive fish, hiding about underwater structure during the daytime and foraging actively at night over the bottom.
  • Predominantly predators, eating small fish, aquatic insects, and even small rodents.
  • Adults over 20" or so feed almost entirely on other fishes during the summer, when in deeper water, and on invertebrates in the winter.
  • Consume mainly mayfly nymphs and other insects while young, shifting to a diet of fish and crayfish as adults.
  • Voracious appetite and indiscriminate eating habits. Stomachs have been found to contain small stones, wood chips, and plastic as well as the more typical fare of crustaceans, fish, and insects.

History:

  • Minnesota Record: 18lb 5oz, from Lake of the Woods (Lake of the Woods County)
  • Early Great Lakes fishermen derided them as trash fish. In the middle of the 20th century, the lakes' burbot populations declined under the onslaught of the sea lamprey but are now returning

Uses:

  • Despite ugly form, meat is tasty and nutritious. Still regarded as a coarse fish, however, and not widely sought by anglers, though interest in ice fishing for burbot is increasing..
  • A delicacy in Scandinavia, the liver contains an oil said to rival that of the saltwater cod. Harvested commercially on the Great Lakes.

Reproduction:

  • Spawns in mid winter under the ice, usually in 1'-4' of water, with water temperatures near 35º F. Spawning occurs at night in shallow bays or tributary streams over a sand or gravel bottom and is said to take place in a writhing ball about 2' in diameter made up of 10-12 individuals.
  • Extremely productive; large females lay up to one million eggs, which drift along the bottom, hatching within 30 days. No care is given to the fry young.
  • The young grow rapidly for their first four years, feeding mostly at night on a variety of invertebrates. They spend most of this time in lake shallows or stream channels.

Comments:

  • Known locally as the Eelpout, the Burbot is honored for a few days each year at a festival in Walker, Minnesota., at the southern end of Leech Lake, between Brainerd and Bemidji. The festivities roughly corresponding with the fish’s winter spawn.
  • Mid February 2000: 21st International Eelpout Festival
    • ice fishing contests, hot air balloon rides, local celebrations, great partying out on the ice, and general all-around good fun and mayhem, great prizes, registration fees
    • Walker, Minnesota, on Leech Lake
    • For more information call the Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce at (800) 863-1118 or (218) 547-1313.

Links:

Boreal border

Last updated on 14 November 1999