NOAA Fisheries recently listed Atlantic sturgeon for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists and managers are reviewing the impacts of monkfish and other Northeast fisheries on this species and will work with the fishing industry to find ways to minimize potential impacts of these fisheries on Atlantic sturgeon.
- Ocean perch
- Sea Bass
- Turbot (Greenland)
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Goosefish, Monktails, Angler, Fishing frog, Allmouth, Molligut, Abbot, Sea-devil, Lotte
U.S. wild-caught from Maine to North Carolina
- FISHING RATE
- HABITAT IMPACTS
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Captain Henri Franco with a large monkfish during a cooperative monkfish survey aboard the F/V Mary K.LAUNCH GALLERY
Typically only the meaty tails of monkfish make it to the table, so most people have never seen the fish’s huge mouth and head, adapted for hunting in deep water. Monkfish aren’t the prettiest fish, but they are pretty tasty, with mild, slightly sweet meat similar to lobster. Until the 1970s, this “poor man’s lobster” was caught incidentally in trawls and scallop dredges and was considered a trash fish in the United States. In the 1980s, domestic commercial fisheries for monkfish developed in response to growing international demand for monkfish tails and livers (as the European and Mediterranean monkfish stocks had been depleted). By the 1990s, monkfish were the highest valued finfish in the Northeast, surpassing traditional groundfish species such as cod, haddock, and flounders.
Around the same time, the fishing industry started to express concerns over the growing directed trawl fishery and dramatically increased fishing rates, gear conflicts, and decline in the size of harvested monkfish, which can be an indicator of problems in the population. In 1999, scientists determined the monkfish resource had fallen below sustainable levels (overfished). Managers established a rebuilding plan for monkfish in 2000, implementing a strategy to manage harvest at a level that would allow the overfished stock to rebuild to target population levels by a specified deadline. Under these strict regulations, the monkfish resource was declared rebuilt in 2008 and now exceeds target population levels. Fishery regulations for monkfish now focus on maintaining harvests at a sustainable level and effectively reducing the fishery’s impact on other species and their habitat.
LOCATION & HABITAT
Monkfish are found in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean from the Grand Banks and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence south to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. They can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and depths, from inshore waters down to nearly 3,000 feet. They live on the ocean floor, typically on sand, mud, and shell habitats. Adults spend most of their time resting on the bottom, often in a depression or partially covered in sediment. They like to be partially buried so they can hide and ambush their prey.
Monkfish migrate seasonally to spawn and feed. They travel by slowly swimming or by using the sturdy base of their pectoral fins to walk. They also have wing-like extensions on their pectoral fins that they use to ride currents.
Female monkfish grow larger and live longer than male monkfish – females live to at least 13 years and grow to over 4 1/2 feet long; males only live about 7 years and grow to almost 3 feet long. Males and females are able to reproduce when they reach 14 inches and 16 inches long, respectively. Monkfish spawn from February through October. Females release large “egg veils” that can contain over 1 million eggs. These egg veils float near the surface along with the prevailing currents for 1 to 3 weeks (depending on temperature) until the veil disintegrates and the larvae hatch. NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center runs the Monkfish Egg Veil Sighting Network to help scientists better understand when and where monkfish spawn and where the egg veils travel after spawning. Scientists use the information on egg veil sightings along with satellite data and ocean circulation patterns to predict where eggs will hatch.
Monkfish are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever prey is most available at the time. Larvae feed on zooplankton (tiny floating animals). Juveniles mostly eat small fish, shrimp, and squid. Adults mainly eat fish, including other monkfish, but also feed on crustaceans, mollusks, seabirds, and diving ducks. Monkfish ambush their prey – they use their modified spine as bait to lure small fish toward their mouths. Large monkfish have few predators. Predacious fish such as swordfish, sharks, and thorny skate prey on small monkfish.
Monkfish are chocolate-brown above and whitish underneath. They are described as mostly mouth with a tail attached – the fish is mostly a broad head that is mostly mouth. In fact, monkfish are capable of eating prey nearly as long as they are.
NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center runs the Cooperative Monkfish Research Program in collaboration with members of the monkfish industry. This program includes cooperative surveys to estimate monkfish population status and stock assessment workshops, as well as the Monkfish Research Set-Aside Program and the Monkfish Egg Veil Sighting Network. The Monkfish Research Set-Aside Program sets aside 500 monkfish days-at-sea from the directed monkfish fishery to be used for monkfish-related research projects. Revenues generated from monkfish harvested during these days are used to fund research activities and compensate vessels that participate in the projects. The Monkfish Egg Veil Sighting Network helps scientists better understand when and where monkfish spawn and where the egg veils travel after being spawned.
The monkfish resource is divided into two areas—northern and southern—for management purposes. In the northern area, monkfish has been relatively stable since 2003 and was estimated to be 29 percent above target population levels. In the southern area, abundance has increased since 1999, and was estimated to be 11 percent above target population levels in 2009.
With funding from the Monkfish Research Set-Aside Program, researchers are working with commercial fishermen to put electronic tags on hundreds of monkfish in the waters of southern New England and the Gulf of Maine to track where the commercially important fish goes during its lifetime, and to answer other questions about its biology.
Fishermen harvest monkfish using trawls and gillnets. Although trawls can affect habitat, most trawls catch monkfish over sand and mud habitats, which tend to recover from any disturbance faster than more structured habitats. Researchers have determined that monkfish fishing gear does not harm monkfish “essential fish habitat.” Managers have implemented a variety of measures to protect habitat of other bottom-dwelling fish from any potential impacts from the monkfish fishery:
- Two areas are closed to monkfish fishing (both bottom trawlers and gillnetters) year-round to protect sensitive habitat.
- Fishermen must use gear with specific requirements that prevent them from fishing in sensitive hard bottom areas.
- Fisheries observers monitor the fishery for compliance with management measures and collect data for future fishery management decisions.
Monkfish fisheries sometimes incidentally catch dogfish and skates. Fishermen are allowed to keep both of these species as long as they have the appropriate Federal permits and the fishing seasons for these species are open. There is a limit on the amount of bycatch allowed, and the mesh on gillnets and trawl nets must be larger than the established minimum size to reduce bycatch.
Gillnets used to target monkfish can incidentally capture protected species, such as sea turtles, large whales (right, humpback, and fin whales), harbor porpoise, and dolphins. Monkfish fishermen follow a number of measures to reduce the fishery’s potential impact on protected species:
- In the Mid-Atlantic, management measures designed to reduce sea turtle bycatch prohibit gillnet vessels from using large mesh (7 inches or greater) gillnets in certain areas during certain times of the year to protect migrating sea turtles. These rolling closures are timed based on projected sea surface temperatures in monkfish fishing areas, as sea turtles are known to migrate into these areas when temperatures are about 52 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. The closures move large-mesh gillnetting north in advance of sea turtles migrating into monkfish fishing areas and, along with other precautions, have greatly reduced incidental catch of sea turtles in this fishery.
- In the Mid-Atlantic and southern New England, monkfish gillnets can seriously injure or kill various marine mammals, particularly harbor porpoises. Managers implemented several measures to reduce interactions between harbor porpoises and gillnets in these areas. Fishermen may not fish in certain areas when harbor porpoises are most abundant. They are required to have acoustic alarms, or pingers, on their nets in specific areas and seasons to deter harbor porpoises and to prevent them from getting entangled in gillnets. NOAA Fisheries closely monitors harbor porpoise bycatch rates in areas where bycatch has previously been high. If observed bycatch rates exceed bycatch limits, managers may implement additional closures in these areas.
Monkfish gillnets also pose a risk to large whales (such as right, humpback, and fin whales) and are required to comply with the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan requirements (such as placing weak links throughout gillnet gear).
Current management: Monkfish Fishery Management Plan
Managers divided U.S. waters into two management areas north and south of Georges Bank to accommodate differences in monkfish fishing practices. The Northern Fishery Management Area covers the Gulf of Maine and the northern part of Georges Bank; the Southern Fishery Management Area extends from the southern flank of Georges Bank through the Mid-Atlantic Bight to North Carolina. Management measures include:
- An annual catch limit for the monkfish fishery, specifying how much monkfish can be caught each year. If reported harvests exceed this limit, the overage is deducted from the next year’s annual catch limit.
- Fishermen must have the appropriate permit to harvest monkfish. Managers limit the number of permits available to control the number of vessels operating in the fishery. Permitted vessels are allocated a specified number of days-at-sea and amount of monkfish they can harvest per fishing trip (trip limits). They must submit an accurate report of their catch for each fishing trip.
- Monkfish must be larger than the minimum established size to be harvested (currently 17 inches total length or 11 inches tail length).
- A number of measures (described above) have been implemented to reduce bycatch and impacts on habitat.
In 2010, commercial harvest of monkfish totaled over 16 million pounds.
Monkfish is one of the highest valued finfish in the Northeast. The 2010 harvest was worth over $19.2 million. Almost all of the monkfish for sale in the United States comes from U.S. fisheries. The United States is also a major exporter of monkfish, supplying foreign markets in Asia and Europe with livers, tails, cheeks, and whole fish.
Monkfish are mainly harvested for their tail meat and livers. The tail meat is firm, dense, and boneless and has a mild, slightly sweet taste. The meat isn’t flaky and has a texture similar to scallop or lobster meat.
Raw monkfish is off-white to pale gray, covered with a blue-gray membrane, which should be removed before cooking. If left on, the membrane will shrink and make the meat tough and unpalatable. Cooked monkfish is white. (Seafood Handbook, 2011)
Year-round, with peaks in the late fall and spring.
Monkfish is low in sodium and is a good source of niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, and potassium and a very good source of protein, phosphorus, and selenium.
|Serving Weight||100 g (raw)|
|Fat, total||1.52 g|
|Saturated fatty acids, total||0.34 g|
|Sugars, total||0 g|
|Fiber, total dietary||0 g|
Monkfish Table of Nutrition