Monkfish have a mild taste and texture similar to lobster to the extent that they are sometimes called “the poor man’s lobster.” Fishermen tend to remove monkfish tail meat and livers to sell, discarding the rest. Monkfish is sold fresh whole, in skinless tail fillets, and whole skin-on tail fillets as well as frozen skinless tail fillets and whole skin-on tails. Tail meats range from 1-4 pounds, and is dense, boneless, firm. Tail meat should have flesh that’s off-white to pale gray when raw. Avoid tails that are discolored at the edges and headless monkfish that have dried up blood, indicating it’s begun to age.
Estimated sustainability by volume of monkfish landings in the United States based on landings data from 2014 according to current Seafood Watch® ratings is broken down accordingly:
~45% of landings are rated "Good Alternative (yellow)" - caught by trawl or gillnets
~55% of landings are unrated - caught by dredge gear but mostly due to landings not coded by specific gear types
Nine states reporting landings in 2014, but the large majority of "Good Alternative" seafood comes from 4 states: Massachusetts (~40%), New Jersey (~18%), Rhode Island (~13%), and New York (~10%). In the unrated (or unknown) category, the landings primarily fall in two states: Massachusetts (~70%) and Rhode Island (~18%). It is important to note that in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the two states with the highest monkfish landings the majority of monkfish landings are unrated/unknown (~70% and ~60% respectively).
Males and females reproduce at lengths of 14" and 16" respectively and females can release more than 1,000,000 eggs. The monkfish's feeding pattern is very interesting. The fish has a large spine on their head that works similar to a fishing pole and bait that attracts its prey. When the prey come close enough, monkfish uses its enormous mouth to engulf the prey which is then trapped behind a mouth full of needle-like teeth.
Monkfish are found worldwide, but primarily in the North Atlantic (from Norway to the Mediterranean and from the Grand Banks to North Carolina). Monkfish and are found in both inshore shallow water and deeper seas up to 3,000 feet and is a bottom-dwelling fish that prefers sandy and muddy habitats. Monkfish migrate seasonally to spawn and feed.
Science & Management
There is a Cooperative Monkfish Research Program operated by both industry members and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The primary focus of the research is both survey estimates for monkfish population and a network to identify spawning patterns. Additionally, there are efforts to place electronic tags on monkfish and a set-aside program which allocates fishing days to use for monkfish research.
In the U.S., the monkfish fisheries is managed by NOAA fisheries with the New England Fishery Management Council and the Mid-Atlantic Management Council with two management areas. The management areas are north and south of Georges Bank due to differences in fishing methods. Both management areas fall under a single management plan which include annual catch limits, size and landing limits, and measures to minimize habitat impacts and bycatch.
Monkfish, a deep-water species found along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and Canada, have characteristics including slow growth and dense aggregation that make them vulnerable to fishing pressure. Following increased demand in the 1980s and 1990s, monkfish were found to be overfished in 1999. Fishery managers implemented a rebuilding plan and in 2008, monkfish was declared rebuilt. Stock assessments done in 2013 showed that monkfish is not overfished or subject to overfishing, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.
Habitat impacts ( Wild)
Monkfish are caught with either bottom gillnets or bottom trawls. While bottom trawls and gillnets can have a significant impact on seafloor habitat, the gear used to catch monkfish operates in muddy and sandy areas that tend to be resilient to disturbance.
The monkfish fishery has bycatch that has included protected species such as sea turtles, large whales, harbor porpoises and Atlantic sturgeon, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Bycatch primarily occurs through entanglements with gillnets, but strict measures are being taken to reduce the risk. Some intsitutes report that it is often is difficult to attribute gillnet deaths of marine animals and turtles to a particular fishery.
Monkfish fishery management measures include area closures, area restrictions, annual catch limits, minimum harvest size and gear requirements such as limits on large-mesh gillnets. The Monterey Bay Aquarium reports that total allowable catches have been frequently exceeded in the past, although the fishery has been improving on that in recent years. The monkfish fishery previously had an "Avoid (red)" rating from the Monterey Bay Aquarium but management actions and changes to the biomass targets helped that change to a "Good Alternative (yellow)" rating in 2012.