Burbot

Lota lota (Linnaeus, 1758)

Lota lota (Burbot)
NY Watershed Biosurvey (image provided by NYS DEC)

Class
Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
Family
Gadidae (cods and haddocks)
State Protection
Not Listed
Not listed or protected by New York State.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
S3
Vulnerable in New York - Vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to rarity or other factors (but not currently imperiled); typically 21 to 80 populations or locations in New York, few individuals, restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or recent and widespread declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
G5
Secure globally - Common in the world; widespread and abundant (but may be rare in some parts of its range).

Summary

Did you know?

Burbot spawn during the winter when water temperatures are between 33 °F (0.6 °C) and 35 °F (1.7 °C). A single female can lay 45,000 to more than 1 million eggs (Smith 1985).

State Ranking Justification

While the Burbot range has remained stable, it appears that the population is declining. In some waterbodies, the population had significantly declined over the years and in others it is somewhat stable. In at least one waterbody, it appears that the population is declining due to warming water temperatures (Grasso 2023).

Short-term Trends

To date, the Burbot range has not significantly changed. However, it is assumed that populations are declining statewide at varying rates. This species is not tolerant of water temperatures over 70°F (21°C). The populations in the southern portion of the New York range could be most affected. Lake Erie populations are expected to remain stable due to the low Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) population and successful Sea Lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) management. Lake Ontario populations are expected to remain low due to depredation by Alewife and Sea Lamprey, although there is active management for Sea Lamprey (Stapanian et al. 2008). Population and distribution declines are reported in Connecticut and Massachusetts, but Burbot populations remain stable in Pennsylvania, Vermont, Quebec, and Ontario in Canada (Grasso 2023).

Long-term Trends

Historically, this species was regularly caught, especially in the Great Lakes. In Lake Erie, some fishermen considered them a nuisance fish because so many were caught in nets despite not being a target fish. By the 1950s and 1960s, the populations drastically declined due to water quality and Sea Lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) parasitism. Populations have also been declining in Oneida Lake for several decades most likely due to warming water temperatures. The southernmost populations are likely to experience population decline due to warm water temperatures (Grasso 2023).

Conservation and Management

Threats

Any activity which might lead to water contamination, siltation, warming of waterways, or the alteration of natural hydrology could directly and indirectly impact aquatic habitats and Burbot populations. Such threats might include roadway and agricultural runoff, industrial pollution, dams, bridge construction and maintenance, logging activities, and development near habitats (NYS DEC 2005). In addition, siltation decreases the amount of sunlight that reaches aquatic plants (EPA 2005) and lowers the quality of habitats needed for a variety of aquatic species (NYS DEC 2005). Point source pollution, such as effluents from municipal and industrial facilities, contribute to the degradation and pollution of aquatic habitats (EPA 2022, NYS DEC 2005, Mahar and Landry 2013, Strayer et al. 2004).
Altering natural waterflow can degrade habitat and restrict species movement. Dams directly restrict or impede species movement, alter the flow of water, change the water temperature, and contribute to sedimentation (NYS DEC 2005, Zaidel et al. 2021). Lake drawdowns and dams can negatively impact Burbot spawning habitat (Grasso 2023).
While modern day agricultural and silvicultural practices are an important aspect of the New York State economy, it is important to consider the effects on ecosystems and species. As these practices move closer to rivers, the natural lake and riparian buffers are often removed. These buffers maintain stream temperature and slow or prevent runoff of sediments from upland soil disturbances. Furthermore, they slow or reduce runoff from farm fields and pastures, such as contaminants from pesticides, fertilizers, manure, and sludge, into waterways (EPA 2005, NYS DEC 2005, Souza et al. 2020). Excessive fertilizer use can lead to algal blooms that can be deadly to aquatic life and overgrazing of livestock in fields could introduce pathogens, oxygen-demanding organics and solids, and invasive species to aquatic ecosystems (EPA 2005).
Approximately 10% of introduced, non-native species could have an impact on the health of ecosystems (McCormick et al. 2009). Invasive plants tend to outcompete native plants and can change natural processes (NYS DEC 2005). There is an increased risk of runoff and erosion when these plants are along streams and rivers. Aquatic invasive plants and animals can alter the water chemistry, change the nutrient regime, or decrease the dissolved oxygen levels. Introduced fish can alter trophic relationships resulting in a change in native fish populations and decreased water quality (McCormick et al. 2009). Invasive Sea Lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) are known to parasitize larger sized Burbots. (Grasso 2023).
Climate change is another threat that is likely to have lasting effects on aquatic systems. Irregular weather patterns can cause extreme drought, flooding, and temperature fluctuations. Heat waves are expected to be more intense (Frankson et al. 2022). The Northeast Region of the United States is expected to experience an increase in precipitation, more frequent storms, and higher than normal temperatures (EPA 2016, EPA 2022). Precipitation is expected to increase 10% to 15% in southern New York and 15 to 20% in northern New York by 2050 (Frankson et al. 2022). Extreme flooding can cause widespread erosion and runoff with added risk of contamination if flooding occurs at remediation sites, industrial sites, or wastewater treatment facilities (EPA 2016, EPA 2022). Temperature increases can significantly alter ecosystems. In addition, Burbot require cold water and have exhibited signs of stress in some waterbodies, in part, due to warmer water temperatures (Grasso 2023). As water temperatures rise, the amount of dissolved oxygen decreases and evaporation increases, potentially lowering lake and stream levels (EPA 2022). Any combination of these events could change species distributions (EPA 2022) and those that cannot adapt or migrate may be extirpated from some areas (NYS DEC 2005).

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Protect water quality and reduce contamination and hydrological alteration (such as agricultural or road runoff, shoreline development, and damming) (NYS DEC 2005). Protect stream quality by maintaining both vegetative buffers that includes herbaceous and/or woody vegetation along the shoreline, and a significant forested buffer. These buffers reduce sediment and contaminant runoff (EPA 2005, NYS DEC 2005, Souza et al. 2020), provide shade, regulate temperature, and provide organic matter to animals (Hughes and Vadas 2021). Riparian zones with herbaceous and woody vegetation have high “indicator scores” for macroinvertebrates and fishes (Hughes and Vadas 2021).
Remove barriers to maintain or restore natural flow to waterways. Where removal is not possible, research alternatives that allow flow above and below a barrier.
Temporary methods to reduce runoff include water bars, gravel, geotextile fabric, rubber belt deflectors, open top culverts, strawbales, silt fencing, control blankets, and straw wattles (Watershed Agricultural Council Forestry Program 2018). Restore the disturbed area with native species as soon as possible. Areas that have been logged may also need ruts to be smoothed to reduce surface runoff (Watershed Agricultural Council Forestry Program 2018). Hughes and Vadas (2021) suggest that Best Management Practices may need to be applied to entire stream lengths and catchments to fully restore an aquatic ecosystem. If this is not possible, restore or manage a larger area around the directly disturbed area.
In general, tailor agricultural management plans to local conditions (e.g., soils, slope, land use). Often these plans aim to reduce pollution and increase farm productivity, but incentives could also be used to encourage sustainable farming practices. Proper management typically reduces runoff by 20-90% (EPA 2005). Consider using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as an alternative to pesticide use. If pesticides and fertilizers are used, they should only be applied when needed, in the proper amount, and timed appropriately. In addition, rotate livestock to avoid overgrazing and to allow for vegetation regrowth. If needed, provide alternative water sources and shade to keep animals out of sensitive areas (EPA 2005).
Invasive species management can be time consuming and costly. Reduce the likelihood of non-native species being introduced into waterways. Boat-washing stations at boat launches can reduce transport of invasive plants and animals to new waterbodies. Educate anglers about the risk of releasing unused baitfish. If vulnerable species are present, consider a baitfish ban. Mechanical removal of some invasive plants may be needed in some rivers and streams. The use of pesticides to remove invasives can have a negative effect on ecosystems (McCormick et al. 2009) and should be a last resort to control invasive species. Consider controlling Sea Lamprey populations.
Climate change is a global challenge. However, there are local actions that can help mitigate extreme weather events. Industrial and municipal infrastructure should be improved or replaced to be more resilient to flooding events (EPA 2016, NYS Comptroller 2023). Some suggested actions include installing or improving pumps to remove floodwater from facilities and installing protective structures, such as floodwalls. Ensure that existing bridges, dams, levees, seawalls, retaining walls, and wind barriers are prepared for extreme weather (NYS Comptroller 2023). Decrease runoff and erosion severity by installing large culverts, planting vegetation along riverbanks, and protecting and restoring wetlands (EPA 2016, NYS Comptroller 2023).

Habitat

Habitat

Burbot generally live in large, cool lakes, rivers, and streams where they can be found associated with a variety of substrates. They shelter during the day. The stream populations need a variety of sheltering locations such as rock slabs, large debris (e.g. trees), and tunnels that are large enough for the fish to hide (Smith 1985, Grasso 2023).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Confined river (guide)
    The aquatic community of relatively large, fast flowing sections of streams with a moderate to gentle gradient.
  • Great Lakes deepwater community (guide)
    The open water community in any of the Great Lakes. In general, the Great Lakes are summer-stratified monomictic lakes: they usually do not freeze over in winter, they are mixed of equal temperature throughout in winter, and temperature-stratified in summer.
  • Summer-stratified monomictic lake (guide)
    The aquatic community of a lake that is so deep (or large) that it has only one period of mixing or turnover each year (monomictic), and one period of stratification. These lakes generally do not freeze over in winter (except in unusually cold years) or form only a thin or sporadic ice cover during the coldest parts of midwinter, so the water circulates and is isothermal during the winter.
  • Unconfined river (guide)
    The aquatic community of large, quiet, base level sections of streams with a very low gradient.
  • Winter-stratified monomictic lake (guide)
    The aquatic community of a large, shallow lake that has only one period of mixing each year because it is very shallow in relation to its size, and is completely exposed to winds. These lakes typically never become thermally stratified in the summer, and are only stratified in the winter when they freeze over, and become inversely stratified (coldest water at the surface). They are eutrophic to mesotrophic.

Range

New York State Distribution

Burbot are found in cold-water lakes and large, cool rivers in 10 of the 18 New York watersheds: Allegheny, Black, Champlain, Erie-Niagara, Ontario, Oswegatchie, Oswego, Raquette, St. Lawrence, and Susquehanna.

Global Distribution

Burbot occur in circumpolar regions of Eurasia and North America (Smith 1985) to about 40 degrees north latitude (NatureServe 2023) with some populations farther south. In North America, the most southern populations are known from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Missouri, Wyoming, and Oregon (NatureServe 2023).

Best Places to See

  • Oneida Lake (Oneida, Oswego Counties)
  • Lake Erie (Chautauqua County)

Identification Comments

Identifying Characteristics

The Burbot is a large, gray-tan fish that can reach lengths of 32.5 inches or more and live up to 16 years. However, populations in the Susquehanna drainage tend to live approximately 5 years. Coloring is marbled with dark gray along the dorsal area and the upper sides. Marbling continues on the fins. The head and belly have speckles but lack dark marbling. The snout slightly overhangs the subterminal mouth. There is a single barbel on the chin. Eyes are small. This species has two dorsal fins with the second one significantly longer than the first. The pectoral fin is also long. The caudal fin is paddle shaped. The margin of the vertical fins and central part of the tail fin are bright orange or yellow. The caudal, anal, and second dorsal fins have dark bands. Scales are small/embedded giving the fish a slimy feel. Young fish tend to be more uniform in color and dark; older fish lose the marbling but may be light or dark (Smith 1985).

Characters Most Useful for Identification

Burbots are easily identifiable and there is no other fish that looks similar in New York. It has a single barbel on its chin, two dorsal fins (the second is quite long), and a long anal fin (Smith 1985).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Juveniles or adults.

Behavior

Burbot reach maturity between 3 and 8 years depending on the habitat. River populations grow slowly and die younger than lake populations (Grasso 2023). Burbots in riverine habitats may only reproduce one or two times in a lifetime (Smith 1985). Spawning occurs at night during the winter when water temperatures are 33 to 35 F, typically between December and April (Smith 1985, Grasso 2023). They typically spawn in groups of 10 to 12 individuals in 1 to 4 feet of water or deeper. Fish that occur in rivers tend to migrate while the fish in lakes remain in the same waterbody to spawn. Eggs are semipelagic (slowly sink to the bottom). Juveniles are pelagic; adults are benthic (Grasso 2023).

Diet

Young-of-the-year Burbots typically eat aquatic insects. When they are less than 500 mm, their diet includes aquatic insects, crayfish, and mollusks. Large adults mostly eat fish but may also consume various aquatic invertebrates (Smith 1985).

Best Time to See

Maturity is reached when the fish are approximately 3 to 8 years old (Grasso 2023). Spawning generally occurs at night December through April, often when the waterbodies are still covered with ice (Smith 1985). Burbots are active at night and shelter during the day (Grasso 2023).

  • Active
  • Reproducing

The time of year you would expect to find Burbot active and reproducing in New York.

Burbot Images

Taxonomy

Burbot
Lota lota (Linnaeus, 1758)

  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Craniata
      • Class Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
        • Order Gadiformes (Cods)
          • Family Gadidae (cods and haddocks)

Additional Resources

References

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2005. Protecting water quality from agricultural runoff. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2015-09/documents/ag_runoff_fact_sheet.pdf.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2016. Adapting to climate change northeast. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-07/documents/northeast_fact_sheet.pdf.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2022. Region 2 climate adaptation implementation plan. https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2022-10/bh508-R02%20Climate%20Adaptation%20Implementation%20Plan%209.19.2022%20HQ%20OP%20Copy.pdf

Frankson, R., Kunkel, K.E., Champion, S.M., Stewart, B.C., Sweet, W, DeGaetano, A.T., & Spaccio, J. (2022). New York State Climate Summary 2022. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information. https://statesummaries.ncics.org/chapter/ny/

Grasso, Kyle. 2023. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation species status assessment for Burbot (updated January 2023).

Mahar, Amy and Jenny Landry. 2013. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation species status assessment for Lasmigona subviridis (Green Floater).

McCormick, Frank H., Glen C. Contreras, and Sherri L. Johnson. 2009. "Effects of nonindigenous invasive species on water quality and quantity." A dynamic invasive species research vision: opportunities and priorities 29 (2009): 111-120.

NatureServe. 2023. NatureServe Network Biodiversity Location Data accessed through NatureServe Explorer [web application]. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available https://explorer.natureserve.org/.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

New York State Comptroller. 2023. New York's local governments adapting to climate change: challenges, solutions, and costs. https://www.osc.state.ny.us/files/local-government/publications/pdf/climate-change-2023.pdf

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 2005. A strategy for conserving New York's fish and wildlife resources. Final submission draft.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 2023. NYS DEC Rare fishes shapefile 1850 to 2022 (updated August 9. 2023).

Scott, W. B., and E. J. Crossman. 1973. Freshwater fishes of Canada. Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Bulletin 184. 966 pp.

Smith, C.L. 1985. The Inland Fishes of New York State. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY. 522pp.

Souza, Francine N., Rodolfo Mariano, Tassio Moreia, and Sofia Campiolo. 2020. Influence of the landscape in different scales on the EPT community (Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera) in the Atlantic Forest region. Environmental monitoring and assessment 129: 391-391.

Stapanian, Martin & Bronte, Charles & Ebener, Mark & Lantry, B.F. & Stockwell, J.D. 2008. Status of Burbot populations in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Burbot: Ecology, management, and culture. 111-130.

Strayer, David L., J.A. Dowling, W.R. Haag, T.L. King, J.B. Layzer, T.J. Newton and S.J. Nichols. 2004. Changing perspectives on Pearly Mussels, North America's most Imperiled Animals. BioScience 54:429-439.

Watershed Agricultural Council Forestry Program. 2018. New York State forestry voluntary best management practices for water quality. http://nysbmpguidelines.com/. Accessed on June 20, 2023.

Zaidel, Peter A., A. H. Roy, K. M. Houle, B. Lambert, B. H. Letcher, K. H. Nislow, C. Smith. 2021. Impacts of small dams on stream temperature. Ecological indicators 120:6-11.

Links

About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Shaw, Hollie Y.

Information for this guide was last updated on: September 28, 2023

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Lota lota. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/burbot/. Accessed June 21, 2024.