Burbot (Lota lota, Ojibwa: Mizay)
It's an eel! It's a catfish! No, it's a burbot or as some call it, an eelpout! Putting the "ish" in fish, this rascal is smooth and slimy. What a skin to be in! Despite its rather dirty looks, the burbot is a neat freak. If the water's not clean, it won't be seen. That's why many call Lake Superior "home." For the love of frigid temperatures, burbots have bragging rights; they spawn under ice in January. Near the surface in winter and rolling in the deep during summer, they draw a crowd to Walker, Minnesota, each February where burbots go by their alias at the International Eelpout Festival.
The burbot has many aliases - eelpout, lawyer and lingcod, among others - though their scientific name, Lota lota, is French for "codfish." The burbot is the only species of cod that lives entirely in fresh water. Its appearance has been described as "eel-like" or like "a cross between an eel and a cod." It sports one barbel on its chin as well as a barbel-like, tubular extension near each nostril.
- They can grow up to 30 inches long, although their average length is 12-19 inches.
- They weigh 2 pounds on average, and can weigh up to 18 pounds.
- They can live as long as 15 to 20 years.
- They have been known to wrap their tails around anglers' arms while being unhooked.
Burbot are among the top predators in the food chain. Researchers have found smelt, bloater, ninespine sticklebacks, perch, lake trout, fish eggs and various crustaceans the stomachs of burbot collected in Lake Superior. However, burbot largely prey on sculpin, which are known to eat lake trout eggs. In return, bass, smelt, lake trout, and muskies eat burbot. Smelt, yellow perch or other small fish may snatch a young burbot up. Burbot is a good catch for humans - its meat contains plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.
Burbot inhabit deep, cold lakes in Minnesota (including Lake Superior). They are rarely spotted in the summer months due to their deep-water habitat, although they move to shallower waters in the winter to spawn. Uniquely, they spawn while the lakes are still ice covered. Burbot spawn in Lake Superior around February or March in shallow waters with sand, gravel or cobble bottoms. Spawning usually occurs at night; females will lay from 200,000 to over 1,000,000 eggs.
In Lake Superior, burbot populations have remained relatively stable. The same cannot be said for the other Great Lakes. A possible explanation for the stability in Lake Superior may be that the non-native alewives never had a robust population in Lake Superior due to the cold water and hungry lake trout. Extensive efforts to control the non-native parasitic sea lamprey may also be a contributing factor. Burbot are listed as a rough fish, meaning that there are no restrictions on fish size or on bag limit.
Minnesota is home of the Eelpout Festival held every February on Leech Lake. Thousands of people flock to the small town of Walker to participate in activities celebrating the quirkiness of the burbot. If you are interested in attending, visit www.eelpoutfestival.com.