NGO Seeks Endangered Species Protection for Wolffish

Environmental advocacy group Conservation Law Foundation of Boston today will petition the federal government to add U.S. stocks of wolffish to the endangered species list.

The species, also known as ocean catfish, has declined steadily since the 1980s, according to scientific surveys and bycatch reported by commercial fishermen.

"We've known that wolffish are not in great shape for almost 10 years. Nothing we've done so far has helped the situation, so we need to up the ante," Les Kaufman, associate director of the Boston University Marine Program, told the Boston Globe.

"For most people, ocean species have turned into commodities that we eat - and apart from the fish they see in supermarkets, people can't really think too much about fish or what's going on with them," added Peter Shelley, director of the Conservation Law Foundation.

Filing a petition is the first step; the species still must meet criteria for endangered species status. The National Marine Fisheries Service will have 90 days to review the petition and decide whether to proceed. An extensive status review would follow before any declaration is made.

Since 2004, the wolffish has been listed in the United States as a "species of concern," a designation that comes with no protection.

Wolffish, which can grow to nearly 5 feet long and weigh 40 pounds, live in rocky outcroppings off New England's coast and elsewhere in the North Atlantic. The species has sharp, crooked front teeth and molars strong enough to crush the shells of crabs and other crustaceans that form the bulk of their diet.

Scientific trawl surveys taken each year show an 86 percent drop in the U.S. wolffish population between 1995 and 2006, according to Richard Haedrich, a biologist and oceanographer with Memorial University of Newfoundland, Marine Institute.


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