Lingcod | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Lingcod

Ophiodon elongatus

Also known as

Blue cod, cultus cod, green cod, leopard cod, bluefish, greenling

Distribution

Northeast Pacific from the Gulf of Alaska, USA to Baja California, Mexico

Ecosystem/Habitat

Rocky bottoms

Feeding Habits

Aggressive predator

Conservation Status

Not listed

Taxonomy

Order Scorpaeniformes (scorpionfishes & flatheads); Family Hexagrammidae (greenlings)

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The scientific name for Lingcod, Ophiodon elongates, comes from the Greek ophis for snake and odons for tooth and the Latin elongates, or elongated, all of which provide a fitting description for this long-bodied, large-mouthed, toothy fish. Although the word “cod” is also in their name, lingcod are not actually cod; they are a member of the greenling family. 

Lingcod have an elongated body with a long dorsal fin and are typically a mottled brown colour, but can range anywhere from grey to green to reddish-brown. They are voracious predators, made obvious by their large mouths filled with eighteen sharp teeth. Lingcod can grow to be more than a metre long and weigh around 30 kilograms, with females growing much larger than males.

Lingcod live in deep water, but in the fall they head closer to shore to spawn. Males leave for the spawning areas first to establish nests in rock crevices or on ledges in areas with strong currents along rocky reefs. Females arrive at the spawning grounds later, choosing a nest to lay their eggs, which will then be fertilized by the male. The female leaves soon after, while males stay behind to guard and take care of the eggs until they hatch into larvae in the spring. After hatching, the larvae will move to kelp or eelgrass beds, where they grow rapidly, feeding on copepods and other small larval or juvenile fish. As they mature, lingcod will move into rocky habitats and set up a territory where they will spend the majority of their adult lives, with the exception of the spawning season. They live a rather sedentary lifestyle as adults, with males especially staying close to their home reef. Males mature at around two years of age, whereas females mature at around three to five years. The amount of eggs a female can produce depends entirely on her size and age, with older, larger lingcod producing more eggs than smaller females. Adult lingcod are an aggressive ambush predator that feed on anything they can catch, including fish – such as rockfish or salmon – and even other lingcod. 

For centuries, lingcod have been a popular fish for people to eat, with records of them being harvested dating back 5,000 years. Early European settlers began fishing lingcod in near-shore waters in the mid-1800s, and by the 1860s commercial handline and jig fisheries took off. Before the expansion of commercial fisheries on the Pacific coast in the early 1900s, lingcod was the main source of fresh fish to eat all year long. Their sedentary lifestyle made them available and easy to catch in any season. Catches peaked in the late 1960s, declining steeply throughout the 1970s with a short increase after the introduction of Canada’s 200-nautical mile jurisdiction in 1977. Catches have declined over the past couple decades, but today lingcod still supports a fairly healthy fishery off of Canada’s Pacific coast.

Lingcod caught by hook-and-line and bottom longline fisheries are considered a sustainable seafood option by most certifications, however there are some concerns surrounding the sustainability of lingcod caught by trawl fisheries.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has not assessed or listed Lingcod. However, under Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)’s Precautionary Approach Framework, the outside populations (southwest Vancouver Island, northwest Vancouver Island, Queen Charlotte Sound, and Hecate Strait and the west coast of Haida Gwaii) were assessed as Healthy in 2011. The population found in the Strait of Georgia, however, was assessed under the framework as Cautious. This population crashed to historical lows in the 1980s, but is now recovering and slowly increasing in numbers.