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Lingcod

Ophiodon elongatus

Illustration of a lingcod

Also Known As

  • Cultus cod
  • Blue cod
  • Bluefish
  • Green cod
  • Buffalo cod
  • Greenling
  • White cod

U.S. wild-caught lingcod is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

Above target population levels along the Northern Pacific coast. Near target levels and fishing rate promotes population growth along the Southern Pacific coast.

Fishing Rate

At recommended level.

Habitat Impacts

Time and area closures and gear restrictions protect habitats that are affected by some types of fishing gear used to harvest lingcod.

Bycatch

Regulations prohibit fishing in certain areas to protect sensitive fish populations.

  • Availability

    Year-round.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from Alaska to California.

  • Taste

    A mild-tasting fish.

  • Texture

    A tender fish with large flakes.

  • Color

    Blue-green tint when raw, but is snow white once cooked.

  • Health Benefits

    Lingcod is a good source of low-fat protein and is high in vitamin B12 and selenium.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the lingcod fishery on the West Coast.
  • Managed under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:
    • Size limits and trip limits.
    • Certain seasons and areas are closed to fishing.
    • Gear restrictions help reduce bycatch and impacts on habitat.
    • A trawl rationalization catch share program includes:
      • Catch limits based on the health of each fish stock and divided into shares that are allocated to individual fishermen or groups.
      • Provisions that allow fishermen to decide how and when to catch their share.
  • The State of Alaska manages the lingcod fishery in both state and federal waters in Alaska through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commercial Fisheries Regulations for Lingcod. Regulations include:
    • Closing the fishery during spawning and nesting seasons to protect spawning female lingcod and nest-guarding male lingcod.
    • Limits on the minimum size of fish that can be caught to protect immature fish from being harvested and allow fish to spawn at least once before being subject to harvest.
    • Restricting catch through catch and bycatch quotas.

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • In 2020, commercial landings of lingcod totaled more than 1.7 million pounds and were valued at more than $2.5 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • On the West Coast, lingcod are typically harvested with other groundfish in the trawl fishery.
      • Lingcod are also harvested incidentally in bottom longline and salmon troll fisheries.
      • Trawls that are used to harvest lingcod can contact the ocean floor and impact habitats, depending on the makeup of the ocean bottom and the size of the gear.
      • Trawls cause minimal damage when targeting lingcod over soft, sandy, or muddy ocean bottoms.
      • Some areas are closed to certain gear types to protect sensitive habitat and species.
      • Area closures, reduced trip limits, non-retention rules, gear restrictions, and variable catch limits are used to help minimize impact to overfished rockfish species and prevent bycatch.
      • Charterboat fishermen in Washington have successfully used alternate bait (large flatfish) to reduce yelloweye rockfish bycatch when targeting lingcod.
    • In Alaska, lingcod have been harvested for centuries by the indigenous coastal populations of Southeast, Southcentral, and Western Alaska.
      • Lingcod were traditionally caught for subsistence use with hooks made of wood or bone.
      • Today, lingcod are still fished for subsistence use but are also harvested in commercial fisheries in southeast Alaska with longlines, trolls, and jigs.
  • Recreational fishery:
    • Recreational fishing for lingcod occurs on the West Coast and Alaska.
    • In 2020, recreational anglers landed more than 1.1 million pounds of lingcod, according to the NOAA Fisheries recreational fishing landings database.
    • Due to high levels of yelloweye rockfish bycatch in West Coast hook-and-line recreational fisheries, recreational harvest needs to be carefully managed.
    • Fish must be a certain size to be retained, and there are limits on the number of fish that sport fishermen can keep each day.
    • In Alaska recreational fishing for lingcod is closed during spawning and nesting seasons.

The Science

Population Status

  • There are two stocks of lingcod: Northern Pacific coast and Southern Pacific coast. According to the most recent stock assessments:
    • The Northern Pacific stock is not overfished (2017 stock assessment), and not subject to overfishing based on 2019 catch data. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
    • The Southern Pacific stock is not overfished (2017 stock assessment), and not subject to overfishing based on 2019 catch data. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.

Location

  • Lingcod are found from Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska down to Baja California, but they’re most abundant near British Columbia and Washington.

Habitat

  • Larvae live near the surface of the ocean. Juveniles settle on nearshore sandy ocean bottoms near eelgrass or kelp beds.
  • Young adults and adults move to rocky habitats or seaweed, kelp, and eelgrass beds, where food is abundant.
  • Male lingcod don’t generally move far from where they’re born, but researchers have found that immature fish sometimes migrate more than 60 miles and females migrate seasonally to spawn. 

Physical Description

  • Lingcod are dark gray, brown, or greenish on the back with some copper-colored mottling or spotting along the upper back.
  • Nicknamed “buckethead,” the lingcod has a large head and mouth, and 18 large, sharp teeth.
  • Lingcod have long bodies that narrow toward the tail. 

Biology

  • Lingcod grow quickly, up to 5 feet and 80 pounds, and can live more than 20 years.
  • Males sexually mature when they are about 2 years old and almost 20 inches long.
  • Females are able to reproduce when they are 3 years old and 30 inches long.
  • In late fall, male lingcod gather and become territorial over areas suitable for spawning, usually shallow, rocky habitats.
  • Mature females are rarely seen at these spawning grounds. Scientists believe that the females briefly visit these spawning areas during winter and spring and only stay long enough to deposit their eggs in crevices and under ledges.
    • Males guard the nests for 8 to 10 weeks until the eggs hatch. The presence of a male to guard the nest from predators appears essential for successful spawning. If something happens to the male, an unguarded nest can be decimated within 48 hours by feeding rockfish, starfish, sculpins, kelp greenling, and cod.
  • Larvae feed on zooplankton (tiny floating animals), including krill and larval crustaceans such as lobster and crab. Juveniles feed on small fish.
  • Adults are aggressive predators and feed primarily on bottom-dwelling fish (including smaller lingcod), squid, octopi, and crab.
  • Marine mammals, sharks, and larger lingcod prey on juvenile and adult lingcod.

Last updated: 12/14/2021