Lingcod Life History
Lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) are unique to the west coast of North America, with the centre of abundance off the coast of British Columbia. They are found on the bottom with most individuals occupying rocky areas at depths of 10-100 m. Tagging studies have shown that lingcod are a largely non-migratory species, with colonization and recruitment occurring in localized areas only.
Starting in October, lingcod migrate to nearshore spawning grounds. The males migrate first, and establish nest sites in strong current areas in rock crevices or on ledges. Spawning takes place between December and March, and females leave the nest site immediately after depositing eggs. Males actively defend the nest from predators until the eggs hatch in early March through late April. The photo to the right shows a nest-guarding male protecting his egg mass (photo by J. King).
The larvae are pelagic until late May or early June when they settle to the bottom as juveniles. Initially they inhabit eel grass beds, and eventually move to flat sandy areas that are not typical habitat of older lingcod. They eventually settle in habitats of similar relief and substrate as older lingcod, but remain at shallower depths for several years. (Photo: M. Surry)
Females and males mature at age 3-5 years (61-75 cm) and age 2 years (45 cm), respectively. Adult males can be distinguished externally from females by the presence of a small, conical papilla behind the anal vent. Up to age 2 males and females grow at similar rates, with both reaching an average length of 45 cm. After age 2, females grow faster than males, with the growth of males tapering off at about age 8, and females continuing to grow until about age 12-14. Lingcod live up to a maximum of about 14 years for males and 20 years for females, reaching a maximum size of approximately 90 cm and 120 cm, respectively.
Lingcod are voracious predators, feeding on invertebrates and many species of fish, including herring (Clupea pallasi) and Pacific hake (Merluccius productus). The above photo shows a lingcod that has been dissected to show a rockfish (Sebastes sp.) in the stomach (photo by S. Sviatko). Lingcod that survive the larval stages have few predators themselves, and are vulnerable mainly to marine mammals such as sea lions and harbour seals.
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