Burbot, Lota lota, aka Eel Pout, Lawyer Fish, Lingcod are a holarctic species native to the cold fresh waters of the Nearctic and Palearctic regions found between 40 and 70 degrees North latitudes. Burbot are demersal fish found in deep temperate lake bottoms and slow moving cold river bottoms between 4 and 18 degrees C. Primarily found at depths ranging from 1 to 700 m, these fish prefer fresh waters but are also found in some brackish water systems. These fish often dwell among roots, trees, rocks, and dense vegetation. The last recorded UK caught Burbot was back in 1969 a £100.00 Angling Times reward for spotting it remains unclaimed to this day and now a costed reintroduction plan is being drawn up for Natural England, the government’s conservation watchdog.
Burbot are large fish known to grow to as much as 1.5 m in length and 34 kg in weight. These fish are yellow, light tan, or brown with dark brown or black patterning on the body, head and most fins. The underbelly and pectoral fins are pale to white. The first dorsal fin is short and is followed by a long second dorsal fin at least 6 times the length of the first and joined to a rounded caudal fin. Burbot have neither dorsal nor anal spines and have 67 to 96 soft dorsal rays, and 58 to 79 soft anal rays, gill rakers are short, pectoral fins are rounded, and caudal fins have 40 ray Like other cods, burbot are also characterised by a single barbel located on the chin. The burbot is the only member of the cod family that lives in fresh water. For several months a year burbot can be trapped under ice – they need cold temperatures to spawn but all that slime and flabbiness provide excellent protection. The are a very voracious predator.
Burbot could also be a beneficiary of, beaver reintroduction which has already taken place in Scotland, Essex, Kent and The Forest of Dean, but these are in fenced controlled areas not fully wild as of yet. Beavers create burbot-friendly habitat which surely must be a win win with one reintroduction species supporting another. The fish has been successfully reintroduced into Belgium and Germany, and there were several river valleys in the East Anglian Fens with good floodplains that could be ideal habitat. Unlike beavers, lynx and sea eagles, they haven’t been gone for long; only about 50 years. Maybe there will some Anglers who still remember catching them ? The cause of the burbot’s disappearance remained “a bit of a mystery” but was a combination of pressures including the disappearance of natural “messy” edges to rivers, including pools, flooded areas and back channels. People did used to eat them ( as with many other species ) but it’s more likely to be water quality and habitat quality slowly degrading since the second world war that caused their disappearance.
Much as changed in our rivers and lakes since 1969 since the last recorded burbot catch in the old west river, Aldreth in Cambridgeshire. I was surprised that this location doing research for this blog was its last sighting. I spent many a happy hour as a youngster fishing the old west and the drains around it in the late 70’s through early 80’s remembering its unspoilt wild stretches it does not surprise me this was this the venue of the last sighting.
A few questions from an angling point of view I ask myself with the 50 year gap since its last UK sighting is the burbot suitable for reintroduction, especially since in that time the non native zander has established throughout our waterways as an alternate predator, did the burbot’s demise enable the zander spread ? Should Natural England start to reintroduce would lakes / fisheries stock them ? they could under strict rules by the EA like Wels catfish, I would love to catch them personally as they are a lure and bait caught species that love a cold weather like this arctic February day especially. What self respecting angler wouldn’t fancy catching these on a drop shot, fly or bait set up.