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Why are Some Types of Fish Known by Different Names?

Updated on November 26, 2012
What would you call this fish? A pollack? A pollock? A lythe?...Or perhaps Pollachius pollachius, if you happen to be a scholar of Latin?
What would you call this fish? A pollack? A pollock? A lythe?...Or perhaps Pollachius pollachius, if you happen to be a scholar of Latin?

As most saltwater fishermen in particular will be aware, where they have ever practiced their sport outwith their own immediate area, there are certain types of fish which are known by a confusing number of different names in different geographical locations. This would be problematic enough were this only to be an issue from country to country, in these times of global information exchange via Internet; but where the variances are in a more confined area, the issue can be considerably more vexing.

There is at least one very good reason why this situation should exist but it is perhaps better in the first instance to provide a specific example, for those who can't perhaps see why it should or even could be a problem. The example below is one of this author's many relevant experiences in this respect and refers to a particular day's sea fishing at a small village in the North-West of Scotland, sometime in the mid-1990's.

Claggan Bay, Isle of Islay, Scotland
Claggan Bay, Isle of Islay, Scotland
View of the Head of Loch Fyne, Argyll, Scotland
View of the Head of Loch Fyne, Argyll, Scotland
Loch Etive, Argyll, Scotland
Loch Etive, Argyll, Scotland | Source

A New Fishing Venue...and a New Species of Fish?

There were four of us made the trip to what was a new fishing mark for us, the area having been reported in Sea Angler magazine as fishing well for a number of desirable species. We were on a beach, just outside a village, with an old, disused stone jetty nearby.

We were only at the stage of tackling up when a young boy of about six or seven came along with his Dad. They were locals and the young boy enthusiastically informed us that we were sure to catch some, "Cuddlings," from the mark. We thought that he meant, "Codling" - young cod, under 5lb in weight - but both father and son found this suggestion hilarious and it was emphasised again, "Cuddlings." Feeling stupid already that we had never so much as heard of this species in our collective experiences, we thanked them for the information, wished them a good day's fishing and they headed off to the stone jetty to wet their lines, leaving us wondering what may be lurking just offshore in the murky depths...

Inevitability would of course have it that barely were our hooks in the water when a childish shriek of delight signalled the first fish of the day. It was clearly for our benefit that it was loudly announced a, "Cuddling," was about to appear above the stone wall of the jetty.

Two of us went to witness this mysterious monster of the deep put in an appearance, while the other two remained to monitor our own rods on their tripods. I actually felt pretty stupid when I saw what was - to be fair - a reasonably decent sized shore-caught coalfish squirming on the hook. I only then recalled previously having heard coalfish referred to as, "Cuddies," in an area no more than fifty miles away. This was the fifth name I had heard for the same fish in the North-West of Scotland alone. The fish was Pollachius virens - coalfish, coley, saithe, cuddy... and now cuddling. Five different local name usages, all in the same small part of the world...

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fish & Shellfish of the World: A natural history identification guide to the diverse animal life of deep oceans, open ... with 1700 illustrations, maps and photographs
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fish & Shellfish of the World: A natural history identification guide to the diverse animal life of deep oceans, open ... with 1700 illustrations, maps and photographs

Available for preorder at a discounted price, this book will be released in September 2011. The combined work of two biologists and a zoologist, this book is certain to provide the definitive guide to piscatorial life around the planet.

 

Fishing and Local Knowledge

Whenever you are fishing a new venue for the first time, it is always advisable to do some research in to what you are likely to catch, specifically where, what bait and tackle you should use and - if sea fishing - at what stage of the tide you are likely to know the greatest chances. Although books, magazines and the Internet are wonderful tools in this respect, they can not match the greatest tool of all: local knowledge. It is entirely feasible that someone fishing fifty yards along the shore from you could catch fish after fish all day, while you draw a frustrating blank. This is possible regardless - but where you have failed in your research, it is even more likely.

One of the biggest factors of digesting local knowledge is in knowing what fish species the locals are actually recommending or discussing. This is where confusion over the names of particular types of fish can be not only misleading but incredibly frustrating. One way around this is to have a fish species identification book in your car when you go to a new fishing venue, take it with you when you visit the local tackle shop or fishermans' pub and eliminate confusion with absolute certainty.

What would you call these delectable creatures? Prawns, langoustines, shrimp, Dublin Bay prawns, Norwegian lobsters... or Nephrops norvegicus?
What would you call these delectable creatures? Prawns, langoustines, shrimp, Dublin Bay prawns, Norwegian lobsters... or Nephrops norvegicus?

I Don't Go Fishing - I Don't Care!

It cannot be disputed that if you are not someone who likes to travel with a fishing rod, you are less likely to be affected by discrepancies and confusion in relation to fish names. There are no possible circumstances in which you should be remotely interested in different names for different species of fish in different geographical areas - are there?

Actually, if you are ever in the habit of buying fish, you may well find yourself falling victim to this confusion, especially if you are travelling. The photo to the above right shows some fresh prawns from Loch Fyne in Scotland. What would you call them?

The Cause - and a Possible Solution?

It is probably fairly safe to assume that the cause of all these discrepancies with regards to the local names given to particular species of fish is simply the way in which detached fishing communities have named their own catch over a period of centuries. Where the species of fish has never become commercially popular as a foodstuff, the way salmon, cod, trout and many more have evolved, these local names are all that generation after generation have for their catch and their food.

It is difficult to suggest a long term, mutually agreeable solution to this problem, that would allow species of fish around the world - or even in a particular country - to become instantly recognisable and put an end to the confusion. One possibility would be where everyone began using the Latin names for fish species. Why not give it a try, the next time you visit a supermarket or fishmongers, and ask for your selected type of fish by its Latin name? The table below gives you some ideas and it may be interesting to see which species the fishmonger hits you with...

Common Fish Name
Latin Name
Atlantic cod
Gadus morhua
Atlantic salmon
Salmo salar
Atlantic mackerel
Scomber scombrus
Whiting
Merlangius merlangus
Bluefin tuna
Thunnus thynnus

Do You Go Fishing? Have You Ever Encountered this Problem?

This is a problem which will vary hugely in extent around the world but is likely to some extent in most countries. Have you ever been caught out in this way, either as a fisherman or a consumer? If so, or if you have any other comments or feedback, you are welcome to leave details in the space below.

Thank you for your visit to this page - and tight lines!

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