Lake Erie is the southern edge of habitat for burbot (pronounced bur’-bit here), a big, eel-like, mottled-patterned fish that hangs out on the bottom of the lake. It’s the only freshwater member of the cod family.
“They’re such a weird, secretive fish, said Cleveland Metroparks aquatic biologist Mike Durkalec. “What it takes to catch them, they’re just aren’t a lot of people out there doing that.”
What it takes to catch a burbot is to fish at dark, in the dead of winter.
Durkalec worked with the Ohio Division of Wildlife and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to catch two burbot in two gill nets in Lake Erie in December. They implanted the fish with transmitters and released them, to be tracked by sensors in the lake, in order to learn about their habits and habitat.
“We’ll see how well the fish do and how well they can be tracked,” Durkalec said.
At one point, burbot were plentiful throughout Lake Erie.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Ohioans could catch them offshore of Lorain and Cleveland.
Then, the fish were hit with a one-two punch of industrial pollution and the introduction of the sea lamprey, a creepy Great Lakes invader that preys on fish and grew explosively.