The Lumpsucker Fish is ugly it may be, but with its gaudy colors and devotion to parental duty. The lumpsucker is one of the most interesting fish in our inshore waters. Although not a commercial fish in this country, abroad it is valued for its roe, or ‘lumpfish caviar’.
The lumpsucker fish is among the more bizarre fishes found around the coasts of Britain a Northern Europe. It is not widely known as anglers rarely catch it, and in Britain, it has taken incidentally, although the species is fished commercially by commercial fisherman, although the species is fished commercially by German and Danish boats off Shetland and the Faroe Islands.
The lumpsucker is unusual for a number of reasons. It has a large and very effective suck on its belly, and formed thick, fleshy lips; its skin is armored rows of coarsely spine plates, and it guards eggs tenaciously; the male is vividly colored and overall, it has an unmistakably bulbous appearance that leaves one in no doubt as to how it obtained its descriptive name. You can find more bizarre-looking fish at Fish Lab.
Fish of Stony Ground
Widespread along northern coasts, the lumpsucker fish is less common in the south. For most of the year, both sexes inhabit stony ground or mid-water in deeper offshore waters. In late winter or early spring, they begin to arrive in shallow rocky areas. The female is considerably larger than the male, and not uncommonly reaches a length of 60 cm (24in). The males are usually 30 cm (12in) or less. Both sexes are normally a drab gray, with white underparts.
In spring or early summer, the lumpsuckers fish move inshore to the kelp zone. By the time they arrive the male has assumed his breeding coloration, which gives him a most striking appearance. His sides become pink, red, yellow, or even a combination of all three. The female, who does not change color at all, selects a site for her eggs. This can hardly be called a nest, for it is just a conveniently shaped depression in a rock surface into which she lays several thousand pinks, sticky eggs.
The male then takes charge of the site, and after fertilizing the eggs he clamps himself firmly to the rock with his sucker, positioning his head against the eggs or, at the most, a few inches away. The female then plays no further part in their care, and very few females are seen until the following year.
It is generally accepted that the male aerates the eggs by fanning with his fins or by blowing seawater with his mouth. He also devotes considerable efforts to guarding the eggs, his bright colors and bulky appearance must be a deterrent to certain predators. The posture adopted on the rocks assists in blocking access to the eggs and the fish frequently refuse to move, even when fronted and touched by a diver.
If subject t major disturbance, they may swim a distance away, but quickly return to assume their usual position once dangerous in the past. Over a period of weeks, the eggs gradually turn yellow and then gray. After hatching the young superficially resemble tadpoles, and spend the summer mainly in the kelp.
Their color varies according to the background, and their dull, scaleless skin provides ideal camouflage so that they are very difficult indeed to detect, as they adhere to the kelp fronds With the onset of cooler weather the young like the adults, move into deeper waters.
Dangers Faced by Lumpsuckers
It is not thought that lumpsuckers are subject to heavy predation by any particular species. Because the nests are in some cases situated at low watermarks, the males suffer attacks from gulls and other birds during spring tides.
The danger, however, comes from heavy greatest swell conditions which are fairly prevalent this time of year There are probably considerable losses as a result On the coast of Northumberland, it is not unusual to find dead lumpsuckers and even lumpsucker skins cast upon the shore.
Though there is some mystery surrounding these dead fishes, the theory has been advanced that they are the victims of rough seas. This could be so, but local fishermen believe that the lumpsucker is the work of the gray seal.
The lumpsucker fish is a poor swimmer and could not easily escape a seal; it is, however, capable of short bursts of speed, and this enables it to catch small fishes, together with a variety of crustaceans, on which it principally feeds. The sedentary nature of the lumpsucker also makes it vulnerable to otters on the west coast of Scotland, and to the activities of spear-fishermen, a small but destructive minority in Britain.
Even though it is not the object of a full-scale fishery in this country, the lumpsucker may be commercially valuable to anyone who catches it, for its roe is eaten as a cheap alternative to caviar: lumpish caviar mostly imported) is sold in almost all delicatessens.
However, the lumpsucker does not appear to suffer as a result of commercial exploitation. There is happily no suggestion t this interesting species is on the decline. During the summer months, both males and females are relatively easy finds for the diver in coastal waters.
A young male lumpsucker fish in the typical shallow water habitat with a rocky sea-bed. On its back you can see the first dorsal fin, looking rather like a spike. As the fish reaches full maturity, the fin is reduced to a mere crest of low protuberances.
A close-up of the head of a male lumpsucker guarding its eggs. Just above and to the rear of the eye, you can just see two small brown creatures clinging to the skin. These are external skin parasites and belong to the crustacean group called copepods. The two tail-like features on each parasite are egg sacs.
At the end of the breeding season, the male lumpsucker returns to his usual non-breeding colors. This one demonstrates the use of the sucker.
Below: A male lumpsucker fish in reddish breeding coloration. Females are seen less often as they return to deeper water soon after spawning.