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Black bellied Monkfish

When is best to eat?

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Monkfish, Seafish

Description

Lophius budegassa. Despite being a terrifying looking creature the monkfish (or anglerfish as it is also known) is beloved by chefs for its meaty white flesh that is highly versatile. Monkfish are predatory fish whose strategy is to lie in wait on the seabed, whilst a modified dorsal fin-ray equipped with a worm-like lure attracts smaller fish. The monkfish is able to leap into action, and with its incredibly wide toothy mouth can engulf its prey easily in one gulp.
There are two species of monkfish landed to Cornish ports and they look very similar externally but when gutted the black bellied monkfish has a black lining to the body cavity, which the white monkfish Lophius piscatorius lacks.
 

Sustainability Overview

Overall stocks of monkfish are healthy with stable landings and a reduced fishing effort in recent years, however black monkfish are less well studied than white monkfish, and, as they make up a significant proportion of landings (approx. 30%) in our area, this is of concern. Monkfish are long lived and vulnerable to fishing effort but reduction in quotas and restrictions on deep water netting for monkfish have improved the sustainability of this stock. The use of acoustic pingers is mandatory for all gill netting boats over 12m in length, fishing outside the 6 mile limit, and this has reduced the problem of accidental bycatch of cetaceans. Cornwall’s fishing fleet is small scale in comparison to those of other parts of Europe. Cornish fishermen have cooperated fully with fisheries scientists in improving selectivity of gear, and carried out a major research project on Western anglerfish between 2003 and 2012 until government funding was pulled. Fisheries scientists advised an increase in quota for monkfish of 20%  in 2014, and in 2015 the quota has remained the same following scientific advice. A Fisheries Improvement Plan (FIP) has been set up by the industry with the aim of improving sustainability of the Western and Channel Monkfish fishery. Best choice is net or demersal trawl caught monkfish landed by day boats to Cornish ports. 

Sustainability ratings for this species

Demersal Trawl

Cornwall VII e,f,g and h

A large trawl held open by paravane trawl doors, the open net is then pulled along in contact with the seabed

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Gill Netting

Cornwall VIIe f g and h

Large mesh 'tangle nets' are set on the seabed to target monkfish, turbot, spider crabs and crawfish.

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Beam Trawling

Cornwall VII e,f,g and h

Caught using heavy beam trawl nets that are dragged over the seabed.

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How we rate fish

Cornwall Good Seafood Guide rates fish on sustainability using a scale of 1 to 5.

1, 2 and 3 are recommended, Fish to avoid are rated 5.

We use the system devised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) so our scores are comparable with the scores produced by MCS for the UK and fisheries from all around the world. For more information on scoring click here.

Biology

Monkfish are a slow-moving fish that waits on the seabed for its prey, small fish, which it lures to its huge mouth using a modified dorsal fin-ray as a lure. Two species of monkfish are caught by Cornish fishermen. The white monkfish Lophius piscatorius and the less common, black bellied monkfish Lophius budegassa.  Monkfish are a long-lived species.  Maximum reported age is 24 years. Females mature at 9-11 years at about 70 - 90cm, males at around 6 years at 50cms. Females can attain a length of 2m and a weight of 40kgs. Males rarely grow beyond 1m. Monkfish spawn between January and July, in deep water off the edge of the continental shelf, in water depths down to 1000m.  They do not spawn in the areas most commonly fished by Cornish fishermen. Eggs are released in a buoyant, gelatinous ribbon or 'egg veil' that may measure more than 10m in length. Monkfish are also found in coastal waters with the continental shelf of the Cornish coast being an important area for juveniles. The species vulnerability score is high (69% for L. budegassa. (Cheung et all 2009, www.fishbase.org).

Stock Info

Latest ICES advice for black bellied monkfish shows that fishing effort is reduced and that although they are not as well studied as white monkfish, stock indicators are that they are increasing and  above sustainable levels. Analysing monkfish stocks is made difficult due to the fact there are two species of commercially important Monkfish that are both fished in the same fishery, and they are hard to visually separate making reporting difficult. 
 
According to Seafish RASS the recruitment (survival rate of juveniles joining the population) fluctuates, and good years for this were 2008, 2011, and 2012. This explains why there appear to be more small monkfish on the fishing grounds in 2014. Fluctuation of populations is natural and short term rises and falls in stocks should not be confused with long term trends
 

Management

Monk catches are limited across the European fleet by a quota system, however ICES advises that the combining of both species of monkfish Lophius budegassa and L. piscatorius, under a combined species total allowable catch (TAC), prevents effective control of the single-species exploitation rates and could lead to the overexploitation of either species.  There are CIFCA bylaws and MMO rules on mesh size and trawl design. All fishing vessels are licenced. All landings are recorded using electronic logbooks, and vessels are monitored by satellite VMS systems.  Vessels over 12 m fishing outside the 6 mile limit have to use 'pingers' to prevent cetacean bycatch. These are not mandatory for smaller vessels operating within the 6 mile limit. 
 
There is no minimum landing size for monkfish, but an EU Council Regulation (EC) No. 2406/96 laying down common marketing standards for certain fishery products fixes a minimum weight of 500g.
 
Fishing effort is restricted by Council Regulation (EC) No. 1954/2003 established measures for the management of fishing effort in a “biologically sensitive area” in Divisions VIIb, VIIj, VIIg, and VIIh. Effort exerted within the “biologically sensitive area” by the vessels of each EU Member Country may not exceed their average annual effort (calculated over the period 1998–2002). 
 
Tangle nets used to target monk and turbot have a minimum mesh size of 220mm (10.5”). 
 
A recent law has tightened up control of tangle net fishing on the shelf edge which should reduce risks to monkfish stocks. Regulation EU227/2013 ‘In light of advice from STECF, fishing with gillnets and entangling nets in ICES divisions IIIa, VIa, VIb, VIIb, VIIc, VIIj and VIIk and ICES sub-areas VIII, IX, X and XII east of 27° W in waters with a charted depth of more than 200 metres but less than 600 metres should only be allowed under certain conditions that provide protection for biologically sensitive deep-sea species.
 
Monkfish are subject to significant fishing mortality before attaining full maturity, and the majority of the anglerfish catch consists of young fish. Research surveys have shown an apparent increase in smaller fish on fishing grounds. Unreported landings in some fisheries in this area are thought to be substantial and there are indications that discarding has increased in recent years – this will be controlled through the reformed CFP and discard ban. 
 
 
IUCN list monkfish as 'least concern' as a ‘common and widespread’ species with no known threats. Fishing effort across the EU fleet on monkfish has decreased; see graph below from ICES. Landings per unit effort have increased (ICES).
 

Capture Info

Black bellied monkfish are commonly caught by beam trawlers, by gill netters and by demersal trawlers. They are a valuable component of the catch.  There are issues with unwanted by-catch of dolphins and porpoises in gill nets but the EU regulation making the use of cetacean scaring pingers mandatory in boats over 12m in length has reduced the risk of this being a problem for many of the larger boats working offshore, although use of pingers by smaller boats is still not mandatory and is currently rarely seen. 

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Cornwall Good Seafood Guide is underpinned by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Good Fish Guide. The first UK consumer guide to sustainable seafood. For more information visit www.fishonline.org

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