Direct evidence of a mesopelagic fish, Melanostigma atlanticum (Zoarcidae) spawning within bottom sediments


Adult Melanostigma atlanticum were observed living 15 to 32 cm deep within sediment box cores from 350 m depth in the Laurentian Trough of the Maritime Estuary of the St. Lawrence. The fish were found in fluid pockets or burrows of brown-coloured (oxygenated) silty clay within the anoxic zone of the sediment. In August 1983, four individuals (3 male and 1 female) were recovered from pockets located 15 and 32 cm below the sediment surface. All specimens were greater than 100 mm in length, had empty stomachs, and the female carried no eggs. In July 1985, 6 individuals (1 male and 5 females) were found in a head to tail arrangement within a single burrow at 18–20 cm depth. Three of the females carried eggs, while two appeared to have already released their eggs. A cluster of about 50 large eggs, some of which appeared to have been fertilized, was also found in the burrow. Most of the stomachs were empty, but one contained two copepods, another a proceroid cestode, and others contained between 4–22 parasitic hemiurid trematodes. These observations indicate that burrowing into bottom sediments is important in the reproductive behaviour of M. atlanticum.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References cited

  1. Andriashev, A.P. 1973. Zoarcidae, pp. 540–547. In: J.C. Hureau & T. Monod(ed.) Checklist of the Fishes of the Northeastern Atlantic and of the Mediterranean. UNESCO, Paris.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Belman, B.W. & M.S. Gordon. 1979. Comparative studies on the metabolism of shallow-water and deep-sea marine fishes. V. Effects of temperature and hydrostatic pressure on oxygen consumption in the mesopelagic zoarcid Melanostigma pammelas. Mar. Biol. 50: 275–281.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bergeron, J. 1960. Liste des poissons marins de l'estuaire et du golfe St-Laurent. Contrib. Dept. Péch. Québec 80: 1–27.

    Google Scholar 

  4. D'Anglejan, B.F. & M.J. Dunbar. 1968. Some observations on oxygen, pH and total alkalinity in the Gulf of St. Lawrence 1966, 1967, 1968. McGill University, Marine Sciences Center Man. Rept. 7. 50 pp.

  5. Edenborn, H.M., A. Mucci, N. Belzile, J. Lebel, N. Silverberg & B. Sundby. 1986. A glove box for the fine-scale subsampling of sediment box cores. Sedimentology 33: 147–150.

    Google Scholar 

  6. El-Sabh, M.I. 1979. The lower St. Lawrence estuary as a physical oceanographic system. Nat. Canadien. 106: 55–73.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Emery, A.R. 1973. Biological survey- summer expedition, pp. 16–33. In: Arctic Diving. Advisory Committee Northern Development North of 60°N., Vol. 4.

  8. Kendall, A.W. Jr., C.D. Jennings, T.M. Beasley, R. Carpenter & B.L.K. Somayajulu. 1983. Discovery of a cluster of unhatched fish eggs of a zoarcid buried 10–12 cm deep in continental slope sediments off Washington State, U.S.A. Mar. Biol. 75: 193–199.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Koefoed, E. 1952. Zeomorphi, Pecomorphi, Plechtognathi from the ‘Michael Sars’ North Atlantic deep-sea expedition. Rept. M. Sars N. Atlantic Deep-sea Exped. 4: 1–27.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Leim, A.H. & L.R. Day. 1959. Records of uncommon and unusual fishes from eastern Canadian waters, 1950–1958. J. Fish. Res. Board. Can. 16: 503–514.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Markle, D.F. & C.A. Wenner. 1979. Evidence of demersal spawning in the mesopelagic zoarcid fish Melanostigma atlanticum with comments on demersal spawning in the alepocephalid fish Xenodermichthys copei Copeia 1979: 363–366.

  12. McAllister, D.E. & E.I.S. Rees. 1964. A revision of the eelpout genus Melanostigma with a new genus and with comments on Maynea. Nat. Mus. Can. Contr. Zool. 1963 Bull. 199: 85–110.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Nikolsky, G.V. 1963. The ecology of fishes (translated from the Russian by L. Birkett) Academic Press. London, 352 pp.

  14. Ouellet, G. 1982. Etude de l'interaction des animaux benthiques qvec les sédiments du Chenal Laurentien. Master's Thesis, Université du Québec à Rimouski, 188 pp.

  15. Silverberg, N., C. Gobeil & H.M. Edenborn. 1986. On-station versus seasonal variations in early diagenesis parameters in sediments of the Laurentian Trough (abs.) EOS 66: 1307.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Sundby, B. & N. Silverberg. 1985. Manganese fluxes in the benthic boundary layer. Limnol. Oceanogr. 302: 372–381.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Sundby, B., N. Silverberg & R. Chesselet. 1981. Pathways of manganese in an open estuarine system. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 45: 293–307.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Syvitski, J.P.M., N. Silverberg, G. Ouellet & K.W. Asprey. 1983. First observations of benthos and seston from a submersible in the lower St. Lawrence estuary. Geogr. Phys. Quater. 37: 227–240.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Tremblay, C., B. Portelance & J. Frechette. 1983. Inventaire au chalut de fond des espèces de poissons et crustacés dans l'estuaire maritime du St-Laurent. Min. Agr. Pèch. Alim. Qué., Dir. én. Péch. Marit., Dir. rech. scient. tech. Cahier d'information 103. 96 pp.

  20. Vladykov, V.D. & D.E. McAllister. 1961. Preliminary list of marine fishes of Quebec. Nat. Canadien 88: 53–78.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Silverberg, N., Edenborn, H.M., Ouellet, G. et al. Direct evidence of a mesopelagic fish, Melanostigma atlanticum (Zoarcidae) spawning within bottom sediments. Environ Biol Fish 20, 195–202 (1987).

Download citation

Key words

  • Burrowing fish
  • Benthic infauna
  • Reproductive behaviour
  • Demersal phase