Monkfish (Lophius americanus) are bottom-dwelling fishes belonging to the family, Lophiidae, also known as Angler, Fishing Frog, Goosefish or Molligut.
Its unique appearance has inspired many common or folk names, including all-mouthand sea-devil. They have long, sharp teeth and a modified spine that is quite mobile and can be angled forward so it can dangle in front of the fish’s mouth and be wiggled like bait to lure its prey.
Monkfish are ravenous predators and feed on benthic fishes and other prey almost as big as themselves. Despite its alarming exterior, monkfish is reported to have a sweet taste. The flesh is firm and dense, similar to scallops or lobster meat. Monkfish liver is considered a delicacy in Japan and Europe.
Monkfish range from the Grand Banks and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence south to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. They are occasional visitors to the lower Chesapeake Bay from late fall to early spring. Monkfish live in a range of habitats throughout their lives, including pelagic waters, saltmarsh creeks, seagrass beds, mudflats and open bay areas, as well as sand and broken shell bottoms from inshore areas to depths greater than 800 m (2,300 ft).
This bottom fish was at one time discarded when caught as bycatch in the Atlantic cod and scallop fisheries. As these other fisheries declined, monkfish were marketed as gourmet fare.
Total Atlantic coast commercial landings (live weight) remained at low levels until the mid-1970s, increasing from about 167,000 pounds in 1970 to seven million pounds in 1978. Landings stayed below 20 million pounds until the late 1980s.
By 1989, the two European and Mediterranean species of monkfish had been overfished, so with stricter regulations in place, there was a greater demand for tails from the United States. At the same time, import markets for livers and whole monkfish in Asia also increased the demand for US landings. Monkfish landings peaked in 1997 at approximately 62 million pounds and dockside revenues topped at $35 million.
The rapid growth of the fishery landed Monkfish on the overfished species list. By the early 1990s, the fishing industry expressed concerns about the dramatically increased fishing mortality rates, gear conflicts, a growing directed trawl fishery and a decline in the size of monkfish being landed.
These concerns led to the development of a management plan for monkfish. Abundance increased initially after fishery managers implemented protective measures in 1999, but then started a declining trend, indicating that stronger management is needed.
Monkfish are usually caught using bottom trawls, a method that can damage seafloor habitat and often results in high bycatch of unmarketable, illegal or undersized species. In the northern area, Winter Skates and Dogfish are the species most frequently discarded as bycatch. In the southern area, these same two species make up the majority of discards, with the addition of Thorny Skates.
Discards usually occur because the species caught are either too small to sell, are under the minimum size allowed by the fishery, or there is no demand in the market for them.
The status of the stock and type of fishing methods used result in a seafood recommendation of ‘Avoid’ for Monkfish. Best choices for alternatives are Catfish (farmed), Rainbow trout (farmed), or Tilapia (farmed).
Cayman Sea Sense is dedicated to helping consumers make informed and environmentally positive seafood choices. For more information on this and other seafood options please visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky/seasense.html or contact [email protected].