The only freshwater member of the Gadidae family of codfish found in North America, Europe, and Asia, the burbot is often caught accidentally by anglers fishing for other species. Although it is a popular food fish in Europe, its ugly appearance makes it unappetizing to a fussy majority of Americans. It is mainly sold in salted form for ethnic consumption in North America but is also a source of oil and is processed into fishmeal; the liver is high in vitamins A and D and is sold smoked or canned in Europe.


The elongate shape of the burbot resembles an eel or a cross between an eel and a catfish. It has been mistaken for a catfish, and in some places it is called an eel, although it is neither. It also looks like a smaller and slimmer version of the saltwater cod.

Other distinctive features include tubular nostrils, a single chin barbel, and a rounded tail. The soft-rayed fins are also noteworthy in appearance: The pectoral fins are large and rounded, the first dorsal fin is small and short, and the second dorsal and anal fins start near the middle of the body and continue to the tail. It has a wide head, small eyes, and small, embedded scales that produce a slick skin.

The burbot has a mottled appearance, due to a dark brown or black pattern scattered over a yellow, light brown, or tan background; there may be regional color variations, including light brown, dark brown, dark olive, or even yellow. The anal fins have a dark edge to them.


Full-grown fish average 15 inches in length and less than a pound in weight. Burbot that are caught by anglers usually weigh several pounds and are occasionally in the 8-pound class, although they can grow much larger. An 18-pound, 11-ounce fish holds the all-tackle world record, but Alaska has produced larger fish, at least one of which was reportedly almost 60 pounds. Some are able to live for 20 years.

Spawning behavior

By the time it is 3 years of age, the burbot is sexually mature. It is one of the few species that spawns in mid- or late winter under ice, doing so at night in shallow bays in 1 to 4 feet of water over sand or gravel; occasionally, it will spawn in rivers in 1 to 10 feet of water. A burbot may produce more than a million spherical, amber eggs at one time, although the average amount is half that number. Without a nest or parental protection, the eggs hatch in 4 to 5 weeks.

Food and feeding habitsYoung burbot feed on plankton and insects, graduating to a diet made up almost entirely of fish, especially perch, cisco, and whitefish. They will also eat mollusks, fish eggs, plankton, and crustaceans. Rocks and other indigestible items have been found in their stomachs.

Other Names

eelpout, pout, ling, cusk, lawyer, lingcod, gudgeon, freshwater ling, mud blower, lush (Alaska), maria (Canada); French: lotte, lotte de riviére; Spanish: lota.


The burbot is common throughout the circumpolar region above 40° north, especially in Alaska, Canada, the northern United States (including the Missouri and Ohio River drainages), and parts of Europe. It is absent from Scotland, Ireland, the Kamchatka Peninsula, the west coast of Norway, extreme western British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and the Atlantic Islands.


Occurring in large, deep, cold rivers and lakes, burbot are found in depths of up to almost 700 feet. They inhabit deep water in summer and move shallower during summer nights.