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Lingcod and Greenling

Lingcod and Greenling General

Lingcod and Greenling General

Present in shallow, sometimes inter-tidal, ocean waters and easy to catch, lingcod and greenling are a reliable food source for many coastal cultures. Archeological remains identifying human use found lingcod and greenling from Oregon to Alaska [37].


Lingcod were reported to have been eaten by the Indigenous Peoples of the circumpolar area, Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth), Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) including the Southern Kwakiutl, First Nations of Ontario, Yupik of Southwest Alaska, People of Port Simpson (Tsimshian), Coast Straits Salish, Coast Salish including the Central Coast Salish, Nuxalk, Indigenous Peoples of Southeast Alaska, Muskeg, Kyuquot, Nuiqsut, Yukon First Nations, Tanana, Koyukon, Lillooet, Shuswap, Okanagan including the Southern Okanagan, Okanagan-Colville, Tagish, Inland Tlingit and Ahtna are reported to have eaten lingcod [1-31].


The Nuxalk and Coast Straits Salish caught lingcod year round and other cultures caught them at various seasons such as winter, fall, summer, spring or combinations thereof [6, 8, 9, 15, 17, 18, 21, 24, 26-28]. They caught them in rocky channels, around coral and submerged ledges and in lakes including Lake Okanagan [8, 24, 29].

Lingcod were usually jigged with a lure and hook, but they also were caught with traps, spears and nets [3-6, 9, 15, 18, 21, 24, 26, 29, 31, 32]. The Nootka, including the Nootka of Vancouver Island, People of Port Simpson, Kwakiutl, Kyuquot and Coast Straits Salish used jigs [3, 5, 15, 29, 31, 32]. The Nootka used a jigging hook made of dense heartwood of hemlock, fir or balsam, all heavy woods to sink in the water [3]. The Nootka of Vancouver Island used straight-shanked angled jigging hooks and bentwood hooks. The straight-shanked angled hooks were spruce root shafts to which a wood, bone or iron point was attached with the aid of nettle fiber string. The hooks were also attached to a line of kelp stem. The bentwood hook was a steam-bent shaft to which a bone point was attached and the leader was a nettle fibre. The Nootka also used a shuttlecock-like lure, which was made of three fins of cedar attached to a carved wood body with string. When they caught lingcod, they harpooned it or placed it in a dip net. They also lured them with lines baited with live herring, kelpfish or a sparkly stone [32]. The Coast Straits Salish jigged them using a bone jig attached to a rock sinker with the aid of a line made of stinging nettle fiber. In more recent times, the jig was made of lead and did not require the extra weight of a sinker. The jigging hook was made of western yew and was attached to a bone barb. When the lingcod took the hook, the fisher yanked the line so that the hook was stuck in its throat and could be reeled in [5]. They also caught them with shuttle-cock lures which were hollowed-out cylindrical poles with six white seagull wing feathers attached to one end of each cylinder [5, 26]. The lure was forced to the bay bottom with the aid of a pole, and then let go, making it spin to the surface. This lured the fish to the surface, so the fisherman scooped it out and tossed into the canoe or speared it with a one pronged spear which was a long iron wood pole with a point at one end [5]. To catch larger lingcod, they weighted a greenling by placing a rock in its stomach, placed a line around it, dropped the line to the bottom and jerked it up causing it to spin. This lured lingcod to a location where it could be speared, but usually the lingcod grabbed the bait and the fisher dragged it in, speared and clubbed it. The Coast Straits Salish also caught them when trolling for salmon if they let their hooks reach the bottom [26]. When cod were plentiful and near the water surface, they speared them with a two or three-pronged spear or simply scooped them by hand and tossed them in a canoe. The two pronged spear consisted of two iron wood or ocean spray prongs secured to a very long red cedar or Douglas fir pole with the aid of a wild cherry bark or stinging nettle cord and each prong had a single barb on the outside. The three-pronged spear was fastened to the pole in the same way as the two-pronged spear, but the prongs were barbless. They collected lingcod eggs below seaweed and around rocks with a one or two pronged spear [5].

The Kyuquot jigged lingcod from a speedboat or rowboat using a line and lure, while the Coast Salish caught them with cod lures [4, 15]. The Nuiqsut and Southern Okanagan used hook and line [9, 24]. The Southern Okanagan’s hook was a one-inch bone point tied to a three-inch piece of dogwood using Indian hemp and their line was made of Indian hemp. The hook was baited with a tiny fish, the line was lowered to the bottom of the lake and the end secured to a piece of ice [24]. The Ahtna also used hook and line, but in the winter, they used funnel traps made of spruce saplings, and used spears through ice holes [6]. The Koyukon used keyhole or basket traps in former times, and nets in latter times [21]. The Inland Tlingit used gill nets, fishhooks and spears. The gill nets were made of moderately small mesh placed under the ice.  Fishhooks were made of a dry wood shank and a silver bone barb constructed from the second or fourth metatarsal of a moose and were covered with a white fish tail or an squirrel skin reversed inside out. The barb was attached to the shank with the aid of babiche, which had been immersed in an ash and water mixture or a red alder and water mixture. The spear had a handle made of birch, a centre barbed point and two side prongs with barbs pointing inwards and was used during the winter through holes after a hole had been chiseled in the ice using an antler ice chisel or a stone adze [18]. The Coast Salish and Nootka caught them with cod lures or other tools [3, 4]. The Nootka lured them with a shimmering stone attached to a line or with a live anchovy or herring tied to a line. They also used a hook and line, with kelpfish and perch as bait. The hook was a pointed-angled hook with a spruce root shank fastened to a barbless bone or hardwood point with the aid of nettle-fibre rope, the leader was made of nettle-fibre, and the main line was made of braided long kelp stem. An oval stone sinker was fastened where the line joined the leader, and a cod stomach float was fastened so that the hook floated at the proper depth. Usually, only a kelpfish “at the end of a line with no hook” was used, because the lingcod which swallowed it “would not easily let go” and was hauled up and clubbed or speared [3].


Lingcod flesh was steamed, barbecued, baked, broiled, boiled, dried and smoked [4, 5, 10, 12, 15, 24-26, 28]. The Coast Salish prized lingcod over black cod for its delicate taste and firmer consistency and they barbecued or baked it after cleaning it. If fish was to be barbecued, the head and tail were removed, followed by the backbone, which was removed by slitting the flesh. The head and tail were reserved to make soup including fish chowder, while the entrails were thrown into the sea. If it was to be baked, the entrails, roe and tail were removed. The entrails were discarded, while the tail and roe were reserved. The head was not necessarily severed as the baked cheeks and eyes were treats. All sizes of lingcod were barbecued using a split-pole rack which was laid over green cedar crosspieces, which at times were soaked in water to decrease the burning. The cross pieces needed to be green (i.e. immature) because mature cedar burns too readily. The split-pole rack was made of a maple sapling pole because maple is hard, and moderately heat resistant. The sapling was split down the centre to make the rack, hence the name “split-pole rack”. Cedar sticks were placed on one portion of the split, and other cedar sticks were laid over the fish. Finally, the ends of the pole were bound with cedar bark or nettle fibre to hold the lingcod in place, and the rack was then angled over a fire. If the lingcod was large, it was cut in pieces (with the head and tail removed), put on iron wood skewers angled over a fire and barbecued until done. If it was small, it was barbecued whole on a large barbecue rack made from wood poles and sticks. This rack was in the shape of a ladder, made of ironwood and was anchored over the ground at each corner with an X-shaped post. A large lingcod could be baked in “imu” /pit fires. Imus are fires made in a pit or trench excavated from beach gravel. Into the pit, rocks were added and then a fire started using cedar tinder. When the fire was burning well, alder was added.  The coals formed were laid out on the rocks to heat them and once the heat was intense, the coals and some of the hot rocks were laid to one side. The lingcod was wrapped in wet seaweed and leaves of the iron wood bush; the latter gave a nice flavor to the cod, which is otherwise bland. The encased fish was placed on the remaining hot rocks and coals, which had been topped with seaweed. More seaweed was used to cover the encased fish and the coals and hot rocks, which had been previously set aside, were placed on this layer of seaweed. Gravel was heaped over everything and the lingcod was baked until the flesh was white and flaky. To make lingcod chowder, the head was added to soup along with any vegetables on hand. Dried seaweed was usually added to thicken and salt the soup [4]. They also dried the flesh on outdoor racks [28].

The Northwest Coast Indigenous Peoples steamed lingcod flesh in a steam pit. They covered the pit with wood, placed rocks on top and lit the wood. When the fire had waned, fresh seaweed was placed on the hot rocks large leaves were placed on the seaweed, followed by slices of fish, leaves and seaweed filling the pit. Water was poured in and the pit covered [25]. The Kyuquot used the flesh to make fish and chips or it was smoked. [15]. The Southern Okanagan and the Muskeg boiled lingcod after skinning/cleaning [10, 24]. The Indigenous People of Southeast Alaska dried, baked, barbecued, boiled and fried it and used smoke to dry it. When boiling it, they boiled it in salted water, seal or ooligan oil and used various herbs for flavouring, though in older times, a type of pungent wild onion was used instead of herbs [12]. The Coast Straits Salish smoked, boiled, dried and steamed it [5, 26]. They boiled it for individual use, steamed it “if there were lots to divide”, dried it for winter consumption and smoked it if it was to be eaten within a month [26]. When smoking it, they cut off the head, removed the intestines and dorsal fin, inserted a pole through the tail or hung the carcass “on top of the poles on the smoking rack”, turning the fish every day [5].

The Muskeg, Indigenous Peoples of the circumpolar area, Tagish and Nuiqsut ate the lingcod liver, considering it a delicacy [7, 9, 10, 18]. The Muskeg boiled the liver and the Tagish fried the liver without oil since the liver was oily enough [10, 18]. Ling livers can be quite long; some of them are approximately three inches in length i.e. about half the length of the head. According to Tagish tradition, Crow, one of the two Tagish moieties, was mad with Ling and began to wring him, but was stopped just as he had wrung all the oil into the liver. This is the reason why the liver is big and tasty, while the flesh is tough and dry [18].

The Coast Straits Salish, Indigenous Peoples of the circumpolar area and the Tagish ate the roe [5, 7, 18]. The Coast Straits Salish prepared it by placing it in a pit close to a fire and covering it with hot ashes to cook. The cooked roe is said to look like corn meal [5]. The Tagish ate the roe raw because “They claim that Crow [a moiety] already cooked the ones you eat raw … there is no special story. They’re already cooked: that’s why they eat it raw” [18]. The Coast Straits Salish also ate the stomach and the Indigenous Peoples of the circumpolar area also ate the eyes [5, 7]. To cook the stomach, the Coast Straits Salish turned it inside out and cleaned and boiled it for immediate consumption [5]. In addition to eating lingcod, the Tagish fed it to their dogs [18].

Beliefs and taboos

The Tagish and Inland Tlingit respected lingcod. The Tagish regarded lingcod as a “chief” and believed that they had to place it on canvas and permit it to die in the air.  They believed that if they clubbed it to death, they would not be able to catch any more. The Inland Tlingit granted lingcod the greatest respect of all the freshwater fish. In their culture, they recognized two types of lingcod, the first one being the deep water lingcod.  According to folklore, one day a man saw two kinds of this fish in a tree consuming mushrooms. He prevented the lings from escaping and ground their heads into the ground so they became flat, hence their trademark flat heads. When setting a hook through the ice for the deep-water lingcod, the fisher must talk to the hook first in order that the fish will be happy to take the hook. Also when digging the hole in the ice, he must sprinkle charcoal about the hole so the lingcod cannot see him and this lingcod must be gutted before it is cooked and the bones must be burned. The first deep water lingcod captured had to have ashes spread around its nose so that no other ling could smell its blood. The second type of lingcod was the shallow-water ling, recognized by the intricate marks on the yellow skin of its back. They considered it the “kindest” lingcod and did not accord it as much ritual as the deep-water lingcod [18].


Greenling of unspecified species were reported to have been consumed by the Coast Tsimshian, cultures of the coast of Southern British Columbia and Northern Washington, Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) of Vancouver Island and Northern Coast Salish [32-35].

The Northern Coast Salish caught greenling with a shuttlecock lure and spear while the Nootka of Vancouver Island caught them with straight-shanked angled hooks and/or gorges [32, 34]. The Coast Tsimshian caught them in shallow water [33].

Kelp greenling were reported to have been eaten by cultures of the British Columbian coast [2].

Rock greenling were reported to have been eaten by the Aleut [36].


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Lingcod and Greenling General

Lingcod and Greenling General

Lingcod and greenling represent a small family of saltwater fish occurring in cold waters of the North American Pacific coast and including the lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus), the kelp greenling (Hexagrammos decagrammus), and the rock greenling (H. lagocephalus). They are within the same order as sablefish, rockfish, and sculpins. Lingcod and greenling all have a long, but low, dorsal fin with spiny-rays in the front and soft-rays in the back joined by a deep notch and large fan-shaped pectoral fins. Most species have fleshy eyebrows, a large squared tail, an obvious lateral line, and irregular spotting patterns.


The lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) is a saltwater fish occurring along the North American Pacific coast, from Mexico to Alaska. They have a large, flat, scale less head, and a wide mouth with sharp teeth. Their globular eyes are located on top of their head and have fleshy eyebrows. Lingcod have varied cryptic body colouration. They can grow quite big, up to around 1.5 m long, and live for around 20 years.

Lingcod live in coastal waters, most often found from the intertidal zone to 100 m deep, where there is strong currents and abundant vegetation and rocks. They are solitary and quite sedentary bottom-dwellers, avoiding sandy and muddy bottoms, and usually hide in rocky reefs resting on the substrate supported by their fins. They spawn in shallow waters during late winter and males defend the nest site until eggs are hatched. Lingcod are ambush predator and mostly feed on other fish, but also eat crustaceans, octopi, and squids. They are an important prey for many marine mammals [2].


Greenling are saltwater fish occurring along the Pacific coast, from Alaska to California, and include two closely related species: the kelp greenling (Hexagrammos decagrammus) and the rock greenling (H. lagocephalus). They can be quite colourful with irregular spotting patterns. They most often live close to shore in kelp or among rocks [3, 4].


1.         Migdalski EC, Fichter GS: The fresh and salt water fishes of the world. New York, NY, USA: Knopf; 1976.

2.         "Ophiodon elongatus Girard, 1854." []

3.         "Hexagrammos lagocephalus Pallas, 1810." []

4.         "Hexagrammos decagrammus Pallas, 1810." []


Images provided below were obtained from: Encyclopedia of Life. Available from
© Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Fishes
Supplier: National Museum of Natural History Collections
This map is based on occurrence records available through the GBIF network
Kelp greenling
© Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Fishes
Supplier: National Museum of Natural History Collections
This map is based on occurrence records available through the GBIF network
Rock greenling
© Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Fishes
Supplier: National Museum of Natural History Collections
This map is based on occurrence records available through the GBIF network