monkfish

Monkfish

Lophius americanus

ALSO KNOWN AS:

    Goosefish, Monktails, Angler, Fishing frog, Allmouth, Molligut, Abbot, Sea-devil, Lotte

SOURCE:

    U.S. wild-caught from Maine to North Carolina
 

STATUS

  • POPULATION
  • FISHING RATE
  • HABITAT IMPACTS
  • BYCATCH
 

Click the icons to learn more about each criteria

 
 

OVERVIEW

Captain Henri Franco with a large monkfish during a cooperative monkfish survey aboard the F/V Mary K.

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 swallowing prey whole. Monkfish aren’t the prettiest fish, but they are pretty tasty, with mild meat that has a texture similar to lobster. Until the 1980s, 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 adopted a fishery management plan that 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. In 2008, the monkfish resource was declared rebuilt and it 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.

Looking Ahead

NOAA Fisheries listed Atlantic sturgeon for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2012. Scientists and managers have determined that the continuation of the monkfish and other Northeast fisheries is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of this species. Researchers are currently working with the fishing industry to find ways to minimize potential impacts of these fisheries on Atlantic sturgeon.

 
 
 

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 are well camouflaged and use a ‘sit and wait’ strategy to ambush unsuspecting 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. Scientists speculate that their wing-like pectoral fins may be used to ride currents.

 
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BIOLOGY

Female monkfish grow larger and live longer than male monkfish – females live to at least 13 years and grow to more than 4 ½ 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 about 14 inches and 16 inches long, respectively. Monkfish spawn from February through October. Females release large “egg veils” that can contain more than 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 expect to 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 a modified spine on their head as a fishing pole and bait to lure small fish toward their mouths. When the prey comes near, the monkfish takes a large gulp, which sucks the prey into its mouth and traps it behind rows of back-pointing teeth. Large monkfish have few predators. Predacious fish such as swordfish, sharks, and thorny skate prey on small monkfish.

 
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PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

Monkfish have mottled dark brown to olive green skin on top and whitish skin underneath. They are described as tadpole-like in appearance with a body that is mostly a broad head with a large mouth and a narrow, tapering body. Monkfish are capable of eating prey longer than they are.

 
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OVERVIEW

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.

 
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POPULATION STATUS

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 above target population levels in 2013. In the southern area, abundance has increased significantly since 1999, and was estimated to be  above target population levels in 2013. Based on the latest stock assessment (2013), monkfish is not overfished, nor subject to overfishing, in either the northern or southern area.

 
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ADDITIONAL RESEARCH

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. Research is also examining more effective ways to age monkfish and determine growth rates. This will help improve our understanding of this species and increase the accuracy of stock assessments.

 
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Harvesting monkfish

Fishermen harvest monkfish using bottom trawls and sink gillnets. Although bottom trawls can affect marine habitat, most bottom trawls catch monkfish over sand and mud habitats, which tend to recover from any disturbance more quickly than more structured habitats. As a result, managers and researchers believe that monkfish “essential fish habitat” is only minimally vulnerable to the effects of bottom trawls and sink gillnet gear.  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.

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 comply with the appropriate regulations for these fisheries. 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, dolphins, and Atlantic sturgeon. 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).

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Management

Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries and the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils. The New England Fishery Management Council has the lead for developing measures in the monkfish fishery management plan.

Current management: Monkfish Fishery Management Plan
The monkfish fishery within U.S. waters is divided into two management areas north and south of Georges Bank to accommodate differences in monkfish fishing practices. Both areas are managed under the same plan. 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 in each area. If reported harvests exceed this limit, the overage is deducted from the annual catch limit of the second year following the overage. This enables managers to develop measures to prevent the reduced annual catch limit from being exceeded again.
  • 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.
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Annual Harvest

In 2012, commercial harvest of monkfish totaled almost 21.5 million pounds.

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Economy

Monkfish is one of the highest valued finfish in the Northeast. The 2012 harvest was worth $27.1 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.

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OVERVIEW

In the past, monkfish were mainly harvested for their tail meat and livers, but today there is a large Asian market for whole monkfish. The tail meat is firm, dense, and relatively boneless and has a mild taste. The meat isn’t flaky and has a texture similar to  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. Cooked monkfish is white.

 
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SEASONAL AVAILABILITY

Year-round, with peaks in the late fall and spring.

 
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NUTRITION

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.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 76
Protein 14.48 g
Fat, total 1.52 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.34 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 25 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 18 mg

Monkfish Table of Nutrition

 
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