Ocean Pout

Zoarces americanus

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
RLS Photo/Shutterstock.com

Females guard their eggs for up to 3 months


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Ocean Pout Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Scorpaeniformes
Family
Zoarcidae
Genus
Zoarces
Scientific Name
Zoarces americanus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Ocean Pout Conservation Status

Ocean Pout Locations

Ocean Pout Locations

Ocean Pout Facts

Prey
Invertebrates, crustaceans, and mollusks
Name Of Young
Fry
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
Females guard their eggs for up to 3 months
Estimated Population Size
Unknown
Biggest Threat
Environmental change
Most Distinctive Feature
Large, fleshy lips
Distinctive Feature
X-shaped markings
Incubation Period
2-3 months
Average Spawn Size
200-4000
Habitat
Rocky or sandy substrates
Predators
Skates, sculpins, seals
Diet
Carnivore
Favorite Food
Varies
Special Features
Blood possess antifreeze proteins
Origin
North Atlantic
Location
Between Newfoundland and North Carolina
Nesting Location
Rocky beds
Migratory
1

Ocean Pout Physical Characteristics

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Zoarces americanus belongs to the eelpout family Zoarcidae. You can find this large eelpout species throughout the northwest Atlantic Ocean. It is a predatory bottom feeder that lives at a wide range of depths. Its blood possesses an antifreeze protein that enables it to withstand frigid waters. Although commercial fisheries don’t regularly harvest them, the fish is collected for research studies to develop unique products and hybrid species.  

5 Facts

  • It possesses unique proteins in its blood that allow it to survive extremely cold temperatures.
  • Females guard their eggs for 2 or 3 months until they hatch. 
  • Several companies are conducting studies on genes for use in creating low-calorie ice cream that doesn’t generate ice crystals during storage. 
  • They can grow up to 46 inches long and weigh over 14 pounds.
  • They feed by scooping up sediment and filtering out worms, crabs, shrimp, sea urchins, and mollusks. 

Classification and Scientific Name

The ocean pout belongs to the ray-finned fish order Scorpaeniformes. This order includes over 1,320 species, including lionfishes and sculpins. Scorpaeniformes derives from the Greek skorpios, meaning “scorpion,” and the Lain forma, meaning “shape.” Members of Scorpaeniformes also go by the name “mail-cheeked” fishes, due to the shape of the suborbital stay. The third circumorbital bone below the eye socket extends backward and across the cheek. In most species, this bone connects to the preoperculum, a set of facial bones that protect the gills and aid in respiration and feeding. 

The ocean pout is a member of the eelpout family Zoarcidae. Eelpouts share an eel-like appearance, hence their name. All eelpouts feature elongated bodies, relatively small and round heads, small or no scales, and connected caudal and anal fins. 

The ocean pout belongs to the genus Zoarces, which includes a total of 6 species. Its genus name stems from the Greek word zoarkes, meaning “that gives life.” Its specific name, americanus, is Latin for “of America,” and refers to its geographic distribution. Meanwhile, little is known about the origins of the it’s common name. Likely, the term pout refers to the fact that the top lip of its fleshy mouth sticks out noticeably, lending it a pout-like expression. 

Appearance

Ocean pout

The ocean pout possesses unique proteins in its blood that allow it to survive extremely cold temperatures.



Like all eelpouts, the ocean pout has an elongated, eel-like body that measures 8 times as long as it does deep. They grow larger as they age. Most harvested range between 17 and 32 inches long and weigh from 1 to 6 pounds. However, at maximum size, they can reach up to 46 inches long and weigh over 14 pounds. In terms of shape, the body appears somewhat flattened on the sides and tapers from the breast to the tail. The scales on them are very small and often difficult to notice. They possess slimy skin like an eel. The dorsal fin runs almost the full length of the back but stops just short of the anal fin. Meanwhile, the caudal and anal fins are connected.   

They can vary in color. While most ocean pout appear muddy yellow, others can look reddish brown or grayish green. Males tend to appear darker than females, although both sexes feature dark, “X”-shaped markings down the length of the body. All sport a dark brown line on either side of the head. These lines runs from the corner of each eye to the edge of each gill cover. The ocean pout features a wide mouth with large, fleshy lips. The upper lip juts out over the lower lip, giving the fish a pout-like expression, hence its name. Conical, molar-like teeth line the inside of both jaws.

Distribution, Population, and Habitat

You can find ocean pout in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean. They range from Newfoundland and Labrador in the north to North Carolina in the south. That said, most ocean pout live north of Delaware. Ocean pout are bottom dwellers that live in a wide range of depths and habitats. You can find them at depths ranging from just a few feet to over 1,273 feet below the surface. Ocean pout migrate depending on the time of year. During the summer, they often move further away from the shore and move closer to shore during the spring. Their preferred habitat can also vary depending on the location and time of year. While some populations live near soft, sandy substrate, others prefer hard, rocky bottoms. 

Predators and Prey

Sculpin (Bero elegans) Bottom fish of small size. It reaches a length of 20 cm. It lives mainly in the coastal zone among rocks, boulders, on pebble-gravel soil.

Ocean pout are relatively slow-moving fish, which makes them susceptible to predation. Some common ocean pout predators include

sculpins.

Ocean pout are relatively slow-moving fish, which makes them highly susceptible to predation. Some common ocean pout predators include skates, sculpins, cod, harbor seals, and sea ravens.

The diet of ocean pout consists mostly of bottom-dwelling invertebrates. They typically feed by scooping up sediment with their mouths and filtering out any food from the substrate. The bulk of an ocean pout’s diet consists of worms, crabs, sand dollars, sea squirts, sea urchins, starfish, clams, and mussels. While they will eat other fish, they are ill-equipped to actively hunt fish due to their slow speed. As a result, fish makes up a small portion of their diet.  

Reproduction and Lifespan

Ocean pout frequently move to rocky areas to breed. The spawning season normally takes place in the fall between August and October. Ocean pout normally spawn close to shore in water between 100 and 200 feet deep. Females lay anywhere from a few hundred to over 4000 eggs in a large, gelatinous mass. The eggs normally measure around 6 to 7 millimeters in diameter and appear yellow. Females lay their eggs in crevices or holes and then guard the eggs until they hatch. This can take anywhere from 2 to 3 months, depending on the location. Ocean pout fry measure a little over an inch long after they hatch. They grow rapidly during the first year of life, often quintupling or sextupling in size. 

The lifespan of an ocean pout varies. However, they can live up to 18 years in the wild.  

Food and Cooking

Ocean pout are significantly underutilized in cooking and as a food source. Their bottom-dwelling lifestyle make them unsuitable as commercial fish, and they don’t grow large enough to attract many recreational anglers. That said, sources indicate that ocean pout flesh tastes somewhat sweet and, overall, rather pleasant. The flesh is rather firm and low in oil and, when cooked, appears bright white. Additionally, ocean pout meat contains relatively few bones, making it easy to clean and prepare. Popular cooking methods include pan-frying, steaming, and stewing. Some common recipes include frying filets in oil and seasoning them with garlic and chives or mincing the meat and including it in chowder or soup. 

ocean pout

Although ocean pout face some challenges due to climate change and pollution, the overall population appears stable.

Population

Presently, the IUCN classifies the ocean pout as Not Evaluated. Little to no reliable data exists on ocean populations and population trends. While some research indicates that ocean pout are susceptible to overfishing, these same resources indicate that populations are not currently overfished. Commercial fisheries do not actively target ocean pout in great numbers. Ocean pout tend to hide among rocks and crevices, which makes them relatively immune from large-scale commercial harvesting operations. Most ocean pout caught are caught either as bycatch or by recreational anglers.  Although ocean pout face some challenges due to climate change and pollution, the overall population appears stable. 

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Ocean Pout FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are ocean pout carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

Ocean pout are carnivores that prey on bottom-dwelling invertebrates. Their diet consists mainly of bivalves, sea urchins and squirts, sand dollars, sea stars, crabs, and worms.  

How long can ocean pout live?

At the longest, ocean pout can live up to about 18 years in the wild. 

What kind of fish is ocean pout?

The ocean pout belongs to the genus Zoarces in the eelpout family Zoarcidae. Its close relatives include the eastern viviparous blenny and the viviparous eelpout. 

Where can you find ocean pout?

Ocean pout live at both shallow depths and depths up to 1,273 feet below the surface. They live both on hard, rocky bottoms and on soft sandy or muddy substrates. 

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Sources