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Wolffish may become first marine fish to receive endangered species protection in New England

Is the scary looking Atlantic Wolffish, Anarhichas lupus, on the brink of extinction? Today, The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and others filed a scientific petition with the federal government of the United States, seeking endangered species protection for this intimidating eel-like creature. If the petition is successful, the Atlantic Wolffish will be the first marine fish to receive endangered species protection in New England.

atlantic wolffish Wolffish may become first marine fish to receive endangered species protection in New England

The Atlantic Wolffish, also known as the Seawolf, is primarily found in cold parts of the Atlantic, but can also be encountered in warmer locations, such as the north-western Mediterranean Sea and the Bay of Biscay. Along the North American coast, it is found as north as the Davis Strait between mid-western Greenland and Baffin Island, and as far south as New Jersey. It is however uncommon south of Cape Cod, New England. In order to survive the cold temperature of its northern habitat, the Atlantic Wolffish has developed a natural anti-freeze that prevents its body from freezing.

The CLF petition cites federal and independent scientific studies that show a dramatic decline of Atlantic Wolffish during the past two decades. According to federal statistics, commercial fishermen are now landing 95% less Atlantic Wolffish than in 1983. Back in the early 1980s, commercial fishermen landed about 1,200 metric tones of this fish per annum, which can be compared to the mere 64.7 metric tons of Atlantic Wolffish landed last year. The Atlantic Wolffish has also worried the scientific community by virtually disappearing from the scientific research trawls carried out twice a year off the coast of New England.

Based on all available science, Atlantic wolffish are rapidly headed toward extinction in New England’s ocean waters,” said Peter Shelley , CLF Vice President and Senior Attorney. “The dramatic decline in wolffish is a troubling indication that while there is some good news about marine species like haddock and sea scallops that have been successfully restored, our ocean’s long term health continues to hang for other species by a precarious balance. Key species like the wolffish and endangered whales remain in serious jeopardy.

The main threats against the Atlantic Wolffish are commercial fishing (including by-catch) and habitat degradation, with a major part of the habitat degradation being the result of commercial fishing since it is carried out using trawls and dredges. “Absent some action to reduce or eliminate the destruction of seafloor habitat in the few remaining areas of United States waters that harbor remnant populations of the Atlantic wolffish, it is probable that it will be faced with extinction in those waters in the near future,” says marine scientist and co-petitioner Dr Les Watling.

The Atlantic Wolffish is listed as a Species of Concern by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

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