What is Lumpfish Roe?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The eggs of a lumpfish are known as lumpfish roe. This roe is often sold as a caviar alternative, although some caviar fans have complained that unscrupulous caviar packers try to pass it off as true sturgeon roe, the source of real caviar. Before being sent to market, lumpfish eggs are salted for preservation and then canned; they are typically lightly salted to maintain a clear flavor, and they may need to be refrigerated as a result. Many markets sell lumpfish roe, along with other caviar alternatives and a few jars of the real deal.

Lumpfish roe is generally dyed red or black.
Lumpfish roe is generally dyed red or black.

”Lumpfish” is a generic term for fish in the family Cyclopteridae. They are not terribly attractive to look at, although they have evolved one interesting trait: their pelvic fins are sticky, which means that the fish can essentially stick themselves to surfaces. Since lumpfish are bottom dwellers, this trait can be quite useful, anchoring the fish while it waits for food. They spawn in shallow water, laying thousands of eggs in adhesive packets that will break open when the eggs are ready to hatch. Young lumpfish typically stay in shallow waters until they are fully developed, making them easy prey for predators.

Lumpfish are typically found in the North Atlantic.
Lumpfish are typically found in the North Atlantic.

Historically, lumpfish have been caught and consumed by native peoples in Scandinavia, near their North Atlantic habitat. In North America, the oily flesh was largely disdained, with most fisheries treating the fish as a bycatch and canning the meat for dog food. When caviar prices began to climb in the 1960s, however, fisheries realized a new use for lumpfish, as a source of cheap roe that could ride on the coattails of the caviar craze.

Like caviar and salmon roe, lumpfish roe is often served as a spreadable appetizer.
Like caviar and salmon roe, lumpfish roe is often served as a spreadable appetizer.

While caviar snobs may look down their noses at eggs from lumpfish, the roe can be quite good when it is well handled. If treated carefully, it will have the distinctive poppy mouthfeel of caviar, with each egg bursting open in response to gentle pressure from the teeth. Lightly salted lumpfish roe can be used like caviar to accompany various appetizers, and it can also be added to pasta sauces and spreads as well as dishes like omelettes.

Lumpfish roe comes in a range of colors in nature, but most of the roe sold commercially is dyed to be either red or black. Naturally colored eggs can make an unusual appetizer, as they develop in a rainbow of colors. Poorly handled roe can be truly atrocious, however. If a shopper buys roe that is oily or fishy, he or she should return it and demand a refund.

For people who are concerned about overfishing, lumpfish roe is an excellent alternative to caviar. Sturgeon populations are severely depleted because of mismanagement by the caviar industry, and many advocates of sustainable fishing have encouraged people to think about alternatives to caviar like lumpfish, salmon, herring, and trout roe.

Lumpfish meat has been used for dog food.
Lumpfish meat has been used for dog food.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Yes, the fish are killed when harvesting the roe.


There has to be a better way, but this is another example of criminal waste. I am from Newfoundland, and from the perspective of smallboat inshore fisher persons, it is usually part of their ground fish license. Cod, and if we are lucky enough, crab, are the majority of their license, lumpfish usually supplements their quota.

I was always flabbergasted to see them cutting the lumpfish bellies open and scooping out the roe. There was usually about a pound or so, and they threw away the remainder. Most lumpfish come in at 10 - 15 pounds, so it was so sad to see all these fish going over the side of the wharf to let the scavengers eat the rotting flesh.

Don't blame the fisher persons. They are just trying to make a living and that is the system. Remember this is only the females, so the males are thrown over the side of the boat when they are caught, many of which usually die because of the process of hauling the nets through hydraulic rollers called a "Girdy".

In vast majority of outports in Atlantic Canada, there usually is no system of collecting the scrap fish and processing into products ie pet food or fertilizer. And don't even get me started on other species like female capelin or undesirable fish from draggers. Such waste, with such a large part of population hungry.

I would imagine that most other countries are similar. And the same people who usually eat roe (caviar) "wealthy 1 percent,” are against the seal hunt. And guess what they eat -- and from experience, only the bellies, letting the fish die and sink to the bottom.

Sorry for making this into a bit of a rant, but what a screwed up world. Anyway, that's the lumpfish saga. Cheers.


I would also like to know the different ways that the fish eggs may be taken, and which is the "best" way regarding the treatment of the fish? Thank you.


I would like to know if the fish is killed when the eggs are taken. Thanks for the interest you'll pay to my request.

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