The highest quality lingcod is caught by hook-and-line gear and when the fish is bled and put on ice immediately. Most lingcod is caught as bycatch in other fisheries, but there are some targeted fisheries, namely Southeast Alaska. Raw lingcod flesh can have a blue-green tint, this is perfectly normal, and when cooked it turns a snow white color. Look for a grayish flesh color and/or blood spots to signal mishandling and dull eyes and faded gills on whole lingcod indicate a lack of freshness.
Key sustainability sourcing notes for lingcod based on combining landings data from 2016-17 and the most recent Seafood Watch assessments as of August 2019:
~20% of North American lingcod landings and ~70% of U.S. West Coast landings meet a Seafood Watch "Best Choice (green)" recommendation (~80% from Oregon, ~10% from Washington and California each)
~70% of North American lingcod landings meet a Seafood Watch "Good Alternative (yellow)" recommendation (~75% from British Columbia and ~25% from Alaska)
~10% of North American lingcod landings are unrated/unknown
2017 North American landings of lingcod have increased ~10% compared to 2016, but decreased ~20% compared to 2014
Lingcod grow quickly and can reach lengths of five feet weighing 80lbs. Lingcod can live up to 20 years with males reaching maturity around age 2 (20" long) and females age 3 (30" long). The spawing process of lingcod involves males claiming suitable territory for nesting, females making only a brief appearance to lay eggs, and males guarding the nests until they hatch in 8-10 weeks. As lingcod develop they move from eating zooplankton as larvae, shellfish as small juveniles, small finfish (such as herring) as large juveniles, until they become aggressive predators as adults feeding on bottom dwelling fish and shellfish. Larval and juvenile lingcod are important food sources for salmon and rockfish, while marine mammals and sharks rely on large juvenile and adult lingcod as food sources.
Lingcod are found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean from northern Baja California to Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, but they are most abundant between Washington and British Columbia. Adult lingcod prefer rocky bottoms at depths of 30-300 feet with males showing very little movement from where they were born and females migrating seasonally to spawn.
Science & Management
There are currently no population estimates of lingcod in Alaska and the populations along the U.S.West Coast are estimated from analyzing data from resource surveys and fishery monitoring.
The State of Alaska manages the lingcod fishery in both state and federal waters of Alaska. To protect this species from overharvest, lingcod fisheries in Alaska are conservatively managed to ensure enough fish are left to reproduce and replenish the population. Management measures:
Close the fishery during spawning and nesting seasons to protect spawning female lingcod and nest-guarding male lingcod.
Limit 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.
Restrict catch through catch and bycatch quotas.
Current management of lingcod on the West Coast is covered under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:
Limit on the minimum size of fish that can be harvested.
Limit on how much lingcod can be harvested in a fishing trip
Certain seasons and areas are closed to fishing.
Gear restrictions to reduce bycatch and impacts on habitat.
Since January 2011, the West Coast groundfish trawl fishery has been managed under a trawl rationalization catch share program. Managers establish annual catch limits based on the health of each fish stock and then allocate a share of this catch limit to individual fishermen or groups of fishermen. Fishermen can decide how and when to catch their share – preferably when weather, markets, and business conditions are most favorable, allowing the fishery the flexibility to be more environmentally responsible, safer, more efficient, and more valuable. The goal is to allow fishermen to catch more of the healthy target stocks (such as lingcod) without increasing their harvest of overfished stocks.
Lingcod is actually a bottom-dwelling Pacific greenling harvested from Alaska to California with the most concentrated around British Columbia and Washington. They grow quickly, the females are fairly fertile and the males guard nests until the eggs hatch although many animals eat the eggs. Seafood Watch reports from 2014 give lingcod a medium inherent vulnerability score overall. In 1999 lingcod was declared overfished but several years of strict catch limits helped the fishery get rebuilt ahead of schedule in 2005. Assessments from 2009 showed the stock to be well over target levels, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Lingcod are mainly caught by bottom trawls and handlines in the groundfish fishery. They can get accidentally caught by the bottom longline and salmon troll fisheries, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service reported. Bottom trawlers can have a significant impact on the ocean habitat but restrictions in place limit the use of this gear, somewhat mitigating the effect, according to 2014 Seafood Watch reports for the U.S. West Coast and British Columbia.
Although bycatch used to be an issue in the lingcod fisheries, bycatch went down 75% following the implementation of a management plan on the U.S. West Coast in 2011, the Environmental Defense Fund noted. Improved gear has also helped trawlers targeting lingcod avoid bycatch hotspots. There are generally few true “bycatch” species caught in substantial amounts in the groundfish fisheries, Seafood Watch reports from 2014 noted.
In Alaska, lingcod is managed by the Department of Fish and Game. The lingcod fisheries are managed with other groundfish by the NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council on the U.S. West Coast, and by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in British Columbia. The catch-share management plan implemented in 2011 on the U.S. West Coast has been credited with bringing down bycatch numbers in the fishery. Management measures include gear and catch restrictions, minimum size limits, and seasonal closures. Seafood Watch found that the West Coast and Canadian lingcod management regimes had strong aspects. However, a 2014 report noted challenges with management strategy, implementation, and recovery of stocks of concern in British Columbia.