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Monkfish

Lophius americanus

Also Known As

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

U.S. wild-caught monkfish is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

Above target population levels.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

Area closures and gear restrictions protect habitat affected by some kinds of trawl gear.

Bycatch

Regulations limit possession of bycatch species and require modified fishing gear to reduce bycatch.

  • Availability

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

  • Source

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

  • Taste

    Mild.

  • Texture

    The tail meat is firm, dense, and relatively boneless. The meat is not flaky and has a texture similar to lobster meat. Raw monkfish is covered with a blue-gray membrane, which should be removed before cooking. If left on, the membrane will shrink, and the meat will curl and become tough.

  • Health Benefits

    Low in sodium; a good source of niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, and potassium; and a very good source of protein, phosphorus, and selenium.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • NOAA Fisheries and the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils manage the monkfish fishery.
  • The New England Fishery Management Council has the lead for developing measures in the monkfish fishery management plan.
  • Managed under the Monkfish Fishery Management Plan:
    • The monkfish fishery in 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 annual catch limits, limited access permits, size limits, landing limits, and measures to reduce bycatch and impacts on habitat.

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • In 2019, commercial landings of monkfish totaled 23 million pounds and were valued at approximately $14.5 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.
    • Monkfish is one of the highest valued finfish in the Northeast.
    • Almost all of the monkfish for sale in the United States comes from U.S. fisheries.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • Fishermen harvest monkfish using bottom trawls, sink gillnets, and scallop dredges.
    • Most monkfish caught in the Northern Fishery Management Area are caught by vessels using bottom-trawl gear targeting groundfish.
    • Most monkfish caught in the Southern Fishery Management area are caught by vessels using 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. 
    • 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 (all gears) 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 spiny dogfish and skates, which fishermen are allowed to keep 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 of other fish species allowed in the monkfish fishery, including possession and landing limits and annual quotas specified in fisheries for those species.
    • 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 prohibit gillnet vessels from using large mesh (7 inches or greater) gillnets in some areas during certain times of the year to protect migrating sea turtles.
      • Closures are timed based on projected sea surface temperatures in 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 fishing areas and, along with other precautions, have greatly reduced incidental catch of sea turtles in the monkfish fishery.

The Science

Population Status

  • There are two stocks of monkfish: Gulf of Maine / Northern Georges Bank and Southern Georges Bank / Mid-Atlantic. According to the most recent stock assessments:

    • The Gulf of Maine / Northern Georges Bank stock is not overfished and not subject to overfishing (2013 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.

    • The Southern Georges Bank / Mid-Atlantic stock is not overfished and not subject to overfishing (2013 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.

Location

  • 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.
  • Monkfish migrate seasonally to spawn and feed.

Habitat

  • Monkfish live on the ocean floor, typically on sand, mud, and shell habitats.
  • Adults spend most of their time on the bottom, often in a depression or partially covered in sediment. They also spend some time off the bottom, probably riding currents to help with migration.

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.

Biology

  • Female monkfish grow larger and live longer than male monkfish. Females live to at least 13 years and grow to more than 4½ feet long, while 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 to 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Research

  • NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center runs the Cooperative Monkfish Research Program in collaboration with members of the monkfish industry. Research has included:
    • Cooperative surveys to estimate monkfish population status and stock assessment workshops.
    • The Monkfish Egg Veil Sighting Network, which helps scientists better understand when and where monkfish spawn and where the egg veils travel.
  • The Monkfish Research Set-Aside Program sets aside 500 monkfish days-at-sea from the directed monkfish fishery for monkfish-related research projects, including growth, maturity, and migration studies.
  • 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 they go during their lifetime and to answer other questions about their biology.

Last updated: 06/16/2021