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What Is a Burbot?

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  • Written By: Debra Durkee
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 29 July 2014
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The burbot is a long, slender freshwater fish that inhabit lakes and rivers in the cooler climates of the Northern Hemisphere. Also known as the spineless catfish, eelpout, methy, lawyer, freshwater cod, loche, mud shark, ling, or skin ling, the name burbot comes from the Latin word barba , a reference to its distinctive single chin whisker. An ugly, catfish-like fish, it is a Scandinavian delicacy and known among fishermen for its mild flesh and vitamin-rich liver.

Mature burbots typically reach lengths of between 15 and 22 inches (about 38 to 55 cm) and weigh between 1 and 3 pounds (about 0.45 and 1.4 kg). They have a long, eel-like, cylindrical bodies that are mottled olive green and brown across the back with a cream underbelly. Long fins run down the center of the back and belly from the midpoint of the fish all the way to the rounded tail. The skin of the burbot is smooth, and the scales are tiny, almost indistinguishable to the naked eye.

Vicious predators that are largely nocturnal, these slender fish prey on whitefish, lampreys, and even other burbots. When they can get them, they have also been known to eat mice. Their large mouths are well suited to their carnivorous nature, with multiple rows of small, backward-slanting teeth and powerful jaws. Up to the age of five or six, juvenile burbots also feed on invertebrates and insects.

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Well adapted to the cold waters of northern climates, burbots spawn in the middle of the winter beneath the ice. Anywhere from a dozen to more than 100 burbots gather together into a writhing ball to spawn, and a single burbot can produce more than a million eggs. These long-lived, slow-growing fish can frequently live for more than 20 years, and reach their mature size at between five and seven years of age. This is also about the time they begin to spawn.

Burbot can be fished during the summer months as well as in the winter, making them a popular target for ice fishermen. They can be caught with a simple fishing pole and hook, with frozen or fresh fish used as bait. Notorious for stealing bait, the burbot can be a challenge to disengage from the hook once caught, as it can wrap its long body around the wrist of someone trying to take it off the hook. A festival called the International Eelpout Festival is held annually in Minnesota, honoring this fish native to so many of the state's many lakes.

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