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Eat Wisconsin Fish is sponsored by Wisconsin Sea Grant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Wisconsin Sea Grant supports scientific research, education and outreach to foster the wise use, conservation and sustainable development of Great Lakes and coastal resources.

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Burbot

Taste and Nutrition

Omega 3 fatty acids: 0.44 grams per 8 ounce serving

Burbot is similar to cod and haddock, which isn’t surprising since it is a member of the freshwater cod family. It’s firm, white meat is excellent as Poor Man’s Lobster or fried.

Back in the roaring 1920s, a furrier noticed that foxes raised in captivity and fed burbot had better fur. The reason? Burbot liver! The son of the fox farmer had a degree in pharmacy. He discovered the vitamin D and A potency of liver oil from burbot is as high as that from good grades of cod liver oil. A burbot’s liver is about 10% of its body weight and six times bigger than that of other freshwater fish of the same size.

How They Are Harvested

Burbot is classified as a rough fish by the state of Wisconsin, meaning that it is an unregulated fishery. The burbot has never been of commercial importance in the state because of its low market demand. Even in the very early years of commercial fishing on the Great Lakes, most burbot were discarded from whitefish and lake trout nets, except for a few sent to local markets. This is still the case today, except for one enterprising commercial fisherman on Door County’s Washington Island. Ken Koyen fishes for burbot and serves them up at his restaurant KK Fiske and The Granary.

Taste and Nutrition

Omega 3 fatty acid content: 0.44 grams per 8 ounce serving

Burbot is similar to cod and haddock, which isn’t surprising since it is a member of the freshwater cod family. It’s firm, white meat is excellent as Poor Man’s Lobster or fried.

Back in the roaring 1920s, a furrier noticed that foxes raised in captivity and fed burbot had better fur. The reason? Burbot liver! The son of the fox farmer had a degree in pharmacy. He discovered the vitamin D and A potency of liver oil from burbot is as high as that from good grades of cod liver oil. A burbot’s liver is about 10% of its body weight and six times bigger than that of other freshwater fish of the same size.

How They Are Harvested

Burbot is classified as a rough fish by the state of Wisconsin, meaning that it is an unregulated fishery. The burbot has never been of commercial importance in the state because of its low market demand. Even in the very early years of commercial fishing on the Great Lakes, most burbot were discarded from whitefish and lake trout nets, except for a few sent to local markets. This is still the case today, except for one enterprising commercial fisherman on Door County’s Washington Island. Ken Koyen fishes for burbot and serves them up at his restaurant KK Fiske and The Granary.

Consumption Advice

Up to 1 meal per week (Lake Michigan and Lake Superior).

This advice comes from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Department of Health Services through the booklet Choose Wisely: A Health Guide for Eating Fish in Wisconsin (2020-2021). Find more fish consumption advice from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Biology and History

Also known as eelpout, lingcod and lawyer, the burbot looks like a cross between an eel and a cod—it has a long body with smooth skin and a single barbel, or whisker, on its chin. The burbot is a member of the freshwater cod family, and it shares many characteristics with its saltwater cousin, including mid-winter spawning. Burbot have an odd habit of wrapping their slimy tails around the hand or arm of unsuspecting anglers when caught. Perhaps because of this behavior, and their slimy eel-like appearance, the burbot has never been a popular sport or commercial species in the Great Lakes despite its excellent taste.

The burbot is one of two predatory fish species native to the Great Lakes. The other is the lake trout. Both species were decimated by the invasive sea lamprey, but the burbot recovered on its own while the lake trout has required ongoing restoration efforts, especially in Lake Michigan. Some biologists have suggested that burbot may be hindering these restoration efforts because they prefer to eat young lake trout, but more research needs to be done to understand fully the role of burbot in the current Great Lakes ecosystem that now includes many nonnative species.

Fun Fact

Like songbirds, burbot sing during their mating season. Sadly, they sound like static:

Research

Researchers Identify New Burbot Spawning Behavior