Lingcod Fishery

photo: lingcod (photo: J. King)Lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) have a long history of exploration as a food fish, starting with First Nations as early as 5,000 years ago, and it is known that they were fished by early settlers in the inshore waters around Victoria by the mid-1800's. (Photo: J. King)

The commercial fishery for lingcod in Canada began around 1860. The early fishery depended on handlining, or jigging, with live bait from small or medium sized vessels, and supplied local markets in Victoria on Vancouver Island. Prior to the development of the trawl fishery, lingcod were the main source of fresh fish available throughout the year, and between the turn of the century and the 1940s they were ranked fourth in economic importance behind salmon, herring, and sardines (pilchards).

Trawling was first conducted in Canadian waters around 1909 but operations remained small and close to the coast until the 1930s. By the early 1940s most areas off the British Columbia coast were being exploited by the trawl fishery, and trawl production now dominates the commercial fishery for lingcod in all areas outside the Strait of Georgia. Historically both Canada and the U.S. participated in the trawl fishery off the west coast of Canada, with the U.S. fishery contributing 40-60% of the total trawl catch in British Columbia. The U.S. fishery off British Columbia was prohibited in 1978 with the establishment of extended jurisdiction to the 200-mile limit in 1977.

Image: GraphCatches averaged around 300 t until about 1909, but rose steadily to a high of 5300 t in 1944. As the trawl fishery became established in the 1940s, the area of exploitation was extended to include the entire BC coast. Trawl catches rose steadily while handline catches gradually declined. In the 1950s and 60s coastwide total catch averaged 4000 t, reaching a record high of 6400 t in 1968, the largest catch on record. Coast wide catches declined sharply through the 1970s, but rose again soon after extended jurisdiction in 1977, reaching another record high of about 5600 t 1985. Coastwide catches were high in the early 1990s but have declined in recent years. The introduction in 1996 of on-board vessel observers, bycatch limits for halibut, and the provision that all catches of quota species, including discards, would be counted against individual vessel quotas, substantially changed the groundfish trawl fishery in BC, and has resulted in reduced targeting on lingcod.

Lingcod catch in the Strait of Georgia has been dominated by the hook and line fishery, with minor contributions by the trawl, longline, and recreational fishery. Catches in all sectors have decreased progressively since the 1950s, and by the late 1980s, both commercial and recreational catches in all areas of the Strait of Georgia had declined to low levels. Lingcod stocks in the Strait of Georgia are considered to be at a low level of abundance, and since the early 1990's, commercial fishing for lingcod has been prohibited in all areas of the Strait of Georgia.

Offshore lingcod are exploited primarily by the trawl fishery. The largest proportion of the catch is from the south west coast of Vancouver Island, with large catches also taken from Queen Charlotte Sound. Lingcod are also caught on the north west coast of Vancouver Island, in Hecate Strait, and on the north west coast of the Haida Gwaii. Offshore lingcod stocks are thought to be at a moderate level of abundance.