Learn about the following species groups (including their most common members, as well as purchasing, storage and cooking information), or select a specific species from the species list on the right.
The shy, eel-like members of the ophidiidae family are found in oceans around the world, and known collectively as cusk eels. Some are found in shallow waters, but many live at great depths; one species was captured at 8370m, the greatest depth at which a fish has ever been caught.
Their thin, tapered bodies are ideally adapted for hiding among caves, crevices and rocky reefs. Many of the hundreds of cusks from the ophidiidae, and related bythitidae, families are found in Australian waters, including bearded (Brotula multibarbata), whiptail (Hypopleuron caninum), golden (Sirembo imberbis), blackedge (Ophidion muraenolepis), humpback (Grammonus robustus) and twinhook (Diancistrus longifilis) cusks. However, the only members of this family commonly caught commercially in Australia are ling.
Pink Ling (Genypterus blacodes), commonly sold just as ‘ling’, has mottled orangey-pink skin. It is a bottom-dwelling fish found along the southern coast of Australia, including Bass Strait and Tasmania, often buried in holes on soft bottoms. Mainly caught off the south-eastern coast at 600g-4.5kg, it can grow to 20kg, and is the species most commonly seen in Sydney.
Rock Ling (Genypterus tigerinus) has densely mottled dark grey and white skin. Like pink ling, it is a bottom-dweller found along the southern coast, but it lives closer to shore, mainly in caves, under ledges and among rocky reefs in estuaries and bays. Unlike pink ling, it is unique to Australia. It is also smaller, typically 700g-2.2kg, growing up to 9kg. It is caught in small quantities, mainly off the south-eastern coast, and is more commonly seen in Melbourne than in Sydney.
Other cusk eels occasionally seen in retail shops or harvested recreationally in various parts of Australia include:
Tusk (Dannevigia tusca) with pinkish-brown skin (not mottled) and a more rounded body, though still with an eel-like tail, is unique to Australia. It is smaller than ling, growing to about 2.7kg, and usually caught as bycatch in the Great Australian Bight where it is more common than ling.
Chameleon Cusk (Sirembo metachroma), a small fish growing to about 500g, is found in deep, off-shore waters around the northern half of Australia. Like tusk, it has a slightly shorter, more rounded body than lings.
Ling are rarely seen whole, as they are quite unattractive fish coated in a thick layer of mucous. In fillet form however, they are quite popular due to their white, boneless flesh; they’re usually sold as skinless, boneless fillets. Look for pale white (with a pinkish ting in pink ling), firm, lustrous, moist flesh without any brown markings or oozing water and with a pleasant fresh sea smell.
Wrap in plastic wrap or place in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze whole fish (gilled and gutted) for up to 6 months, and fillets for up to 3 months, below -18ºC.
Cooking & Serving
Ling has a mild flavour, low oiliness and moist, firm flesh (rock ling is slightly softer than pink ling), with dense, large flakes and few bones. It is very versatile and the firm flesh holds together well in soups, curries and casseroles and can be cubed for kebabs. It can be steamed, poached, deep-fried, pan-fried, stir-fried, baked, braised, grilled, barbecued, or smoked, and the moist flesh works well in mousseline, fish cakes and fish balls. Thin fillets are best wrapped in foil or banana leaves if baking or barbecuing, to prevent them drying out.