The Mighty Monkfish
Alternative Names: Allmouth, Fishing Frog, Sea-devil, Goosefish.
The monkfish, or goosefish which is its official name, is a type of anglerfish which lives on the bottom of the ocean throughout the Atlantic. A cross between a sea monster and a frog, the monkfish is almost all head with a gigantic mouth full of nasty teeth for grabbing, crunching, and crushing essentially whatever gets close enough to eat. Fishermen are wise to keep their hands out of the way as a painful bite can occur when hauling live ones on board.
A voracious predator, monkfish have a lure on their head (like many anglerfish) which it will use to attract prey. Lobster, crabs, skate, fish and even birds are all on the menu giving the monkfish a complex flavor. The meat of monkfish is often referred to as poor man’s lobster.
FISH FACT: Monkfish have been known to eat birds. There was a research program where if you pulled up a monkfish with a bird in its belly you could send the ENTIRE fish to the researcher in exchange for few hundred dollars!
Some hypothesize that the seabirds are diving to the bottom of the ocean and are attracted to the “lure” on the top of the monkfish’s head. Others believe that the monkfish actually leaves the safety of the bottom of the ocean to catch birds as they dive. What do you think?
Fishermen can land a monkfish whole or just bring in the tail as that is where most of the usable meat is. The head is sometimes used for lobster bait so more and more landings of whole monkfish are taking place as the lobster bait market has increased. The liver was a prized portion of the fish as there was significant demand from Asian markets. That demand has declined, bringing down the value of the entire fishery.
FISH FACT: Monkfish liver can weigh several pounds and is known as Ankimo in Japan. It is considered (to some) to be the foie gras of the sea.
Monkfish are caught using gillnets and trawl and the fishery exists from Maine to North Carolina. You need a federal permit to target monkfish, but they are often caught as bycatch in the groundfish fishery, so anyone can get a small permit which allows some landings while out targeting flounders, cod and haddock to reduce waste. Fishermen who wish to target monkfish as part of their business must have a valid limited access monkfish permit and are restricted to only 45 days of fishing for monkfish. The majority of the fishery currently takes place south of Cape Cod but opportunity is growing in the northern area. (Want to learn more about the Commercial Monkfish fishery? Click Here)
Landings peaked at roughly 63 million pounds in 1997. In 2018 roughly 23 million pounds were landed in New England and the Mid Atlantic. The fishery is considered healthy and is a good choice for consumers.
MCFA is hosting a Monkfish event in Portland on Jan 8, 2020. Come join us! Details HERE
There has been an increase in landings recently as several fishermen have started to diversify their fishing businesses to include monkfish as part of the yearly catch. In 2019, roughly 318,000lbs of monkfish was landed at the Portland Fish Exchange, up from only 200,000lbs in 2016. Unfortunately, over that same time, the price of monkfish has decreased making it harder for fishermen to make money on the fishery.