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Not So Pretty In Pink

By Dan Hutton on October 25, 2016 in Other

Photo:  Cameron Ling

Photo: Cameron Ling

You’ve all eaten pink ling. I know that. You’ve delighted in its firm, succulent, white flesh, perfectly matched with a crisp, award-winning cool climate varietal. But do you know what you’re actually eating? Do you know what the fish looks like? It’s a pretty crook looking beast boasting a rig only a mother could love.

A few years back I was making up numbers on a commercial fishing boat. We were bobbing around on the high seas above a seamount several hours due east of Eden. We sent a longline down deep into the abyss, some 300 fathoms, to dangle just off the bottom with hundreds of precisely spaced snoods loaded with snack-sized morsels of squid.

This day New South Wales’ finest seafood came out to play – ocean perch by the box full, clusters of chubby blue-eye cod, toothy gemfish, smatterings of flathead, packs of dogfish, and even the elusive oil fish (a.k.a. diarrhoea fish) made a cameo appearance. And if that wasn’t enough stimulation, a pod of nosey orcas (of which I’ve never tried) came by for a sticky beak. But nothing piqued my interest quite like when the pink ling started coming over the side.

Answering to a bevy of nicknames such as pink cusk-eel and kingclip, pink ling (Genypterus blacodes) are basically a dirty big pinky-orange eel covered in brown blotches, with an Aerosmith mouth and a weathered old-man-of-the-sea visage. They are a bottom-dwelling species found in Australia’s southern waters in depths anywhere from 20 metres to 1000 metres. They are covered head to tail in a thick, slimy, mucousy substance and, interestingly, the fish from deeper waters tend to be more pink than orange. They are most commonly encountered at 50-90 centimetres long and up to 4.5 kilograms, but are known to grow as big as 160 centimetres and 20 kilograms. They reach reproductive maturity at 7-12 years of age and can live up to 30 years.

Pink ling in Australian waters were, until recently, managed as a single stock, with the lion’s share of the recorded commercial catch coming from south eastern waters. Research, however, discovered biology-based evidence that in fact two separate populations exist – an eastern and a western stock with a demarcation line at South Cape, Tasmania. Since 2013 the eastern and western stocks have been managed separately, the western group having been deemed sustainable while the jury’s still out on the eastern.

Pink ling are a fascinating – albeit ugly – creature, their crook looks fortunately stowed away down in the dark depths of the ocean. Bringing one to the surface is not too dissimilar to flicking the lights on in a nightclub. However, their unique and perhaps unexpected appearance serves as a reminder that a menu presents fantastic learning opportunities. If you see the name of a fish or other sea creature on offer, look it up. See what it looks like. Where does it live? How is it caught? Learning something about your seafood is the least you can do to repay the goodness it provides your body.