By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Globe Staff
(Photo courtesy of Jonathan Bird)
Federal officials said today they will review the plight of the fierce-looking Atlantic wolffish to decide whether it warrants protection as a threatened or endangered species.
With its eel-like tail and crooked teeth, the wolffish -- commonly called the ocean catfish -- has suffered over the last decade, according to a petition submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this fall by the Conservation Law Foundation and others.
Scientific trawl surveys taken each year showed a steep decline in the wolffish population, amounting to an 86 percent drop between 1995 and 2006, according to an analysis by Richard Haedrich, a biologist and oceanographer. The abundance of the fish, as measured in the amount reported caught by commercial fishermen, peaked in the mid-1980s when the catch totaled 1,200 metric tons. By last year, the bycatch had dropped to 65 metric tons.
"We find that the petition presents substantial scientific information indicating the petitioned action may be warranted," a notice from NOAA stated in the federal register.
The decision to review the species was praised by the environmental advocacy group that submitted the petition.
"Unless the federal government takes action quickly, the Atlantic wolffish could face extinction in New England's ocean waters," CLF vice president Peter Shelley said in a statement. "This is the one fish that should be taken off everyone's menus."
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