Monkfish, Anglerfish, Black-bellied

Lophius budegassa

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Celtic Seas (South), Bay of Biscay
Stock detail — 7, 8a, 8b, 8d
Picture of Monkfish, Anglerfish, Black-bellied

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020

Black-bellied anglerfish stock is data limited, and trends are used to indicate its state. Trends suggest that there is no concern for the biomass, which appears to be increasing, and fishing pressure is within sustainable levels. Nonetheless, monkfish or anglerfish are vulnerable to over-exploitation as they are long-lived and late to mature. This species is has a low resilience to fishing pressure. The EU multiannual plan (MAP) for stocks in the Western Waters and adjacent waters applies to this stock. However, as the black-bellied anglerfish is a data limited species, ICES precautionary approach is applied to catch advice. Anglerfish are usually caught together and managed together, management of the stock is under a combined TAC (catches of black-bellied anglerfish and white anglerfish), which prevents effective control of single-species exploitation rates and could lead to overexploitation of either species. However, the stock size of both species is increasing and neither species appears to be at risk of over-exploitation. A Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) which was established in April 2017, South-West England, has made some good progress in tackling some of the main weaknesses in this fishery. Bycatch of Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species, is considered to be possible, and bycatch of other non-target species occurs within the trawl fishery in these ecoregions. Habitat impacts from trawling include abrasion and smoothing, as the fishing gear makes contact with the seabed.

Biology

Anglerfish are so called because they possess a fishing lure at the tip of a specially modified dorsal ray, with which they can entice prey. They are a long-lived species. Maximum reported age is 24 years. Females mature at 9-11 years at about 70 - 90 cm, males at around 6 years at 50 cm. Females can attain a length of 2 m and a weight of 40 kg. Males rarely grow beyond 1m. Two species occur in most areas, (white) and L. budegassa (black-bellied), although catches are almost exclusively of the former. There is general consensus amongst scientists that there is one stock of and that this spawns in spring and early summer, in deep water off the edge of the continental shelf to the west of Scotland, in waters down to 1,000 m. Eggs are released in a buoyant, gelatinous ribbon or ‘egg veil’ that may measure more than 10 m in length. Anglerfish are also found in coastal waters.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

This is a data limited stock, and trends are used to indicate its state. Fishing is within sustainable levels, and it seems that stock biomass is increasing. Therefore, there is no concern for the biomass and no concern for fishing pressure. The black-bellied anglerfish has a low resilience to fishing pressure.

This is a data limited stock and no reference point is available for stock size (biomass), so trends in the stock size index is used instead. A FMSY (the maximum rate of fishing mortality, i.e. the proportion of a fish stock caught and removed by fishing, that can sustain a healthy stock level) proxy for fishing pressure (F) is provided within the assessment. The stock size index shows a large increase in black-bellied anglerfish in recent years, since 2015, the stock biomass (B) has shown a continuous incline. The average B in the most recent two years (2017–2018) is estimated to have increased >92.5%, compared to the preceding three years (2014–2016). As the index increased >20%, the uncertainty cap was applied to the 2021 catch advice. Fishing pressure (F) has been decreasing since 2005 and is now below the maximum sustainable yield (FMSY) proxy (calculated as the ratio of F:FMSY, and is therefore 1). This year (2020), F was estimated based on the relative effort specific to the stock. In previous years, F has been estimated relative to the effort on white anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) in Subarea 7 and in Divisions 8a–b and 8d. Recruitment has varied without trend throughout the time-series, with high inter-annual variability.

ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches in 2021 should be no more than 15,551 tonnes. The advice has increased 20% from last year (12,959 tonnes), following the increase in the stock size index (>20%).

Management

Criterion score: 0.5 info

There are management measures in place, which are partly effective in managing the stock. Management of the stock under a combined TAC (catches of two anglerfish species) prevents effective control of single-species exploitation rates and could lead to overexploitation of either species.

The EU multiannual plan (MAP) for stocks in in the Western Waters and adjacent waters applies to this stock. However, the MAP stipulates that when the FMSY ranges are not available, fishing opportunities should be based on the best available scientific advice. As the black-bellied anglerfish is a data limited species, ICES precautionary approach is applied to catch advice.

There is evidence of considerable potential for long-distance migration and it is not clear whether this stock definition (Subarea 7, Divisions 8a-b, 8d) is appropriate. Because there is currently insufficient information to change the stock boundaries, the current stock definition remains unchanged. This presents a number of issues for management.

Both species of monkfish, otherwise known as anglerfish: white anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) and black-bellied anglerfish (Lophius budegassa), are taken in a mixed fishery, mainly with hake, megrim and Nephrops. The two anglerfish species are not totally separated in the landings, and landings are generally reported for the two species combined (L piscatorius and L. budegassa). The combined landings are then split into species at national level, based on the species composition in the sampling data. A single total allowable catch (TAC) covers both anglerfish species, and species-specific landings are estimated by ICES, whereby black-bellied anglerfish account for 25-30% of catches, and white anglerfish make up the rest. ICES considers that management of catches of the two anglerfish species, under a combined species TAC prevents effective control of the single-species exploitation rates and could lead to the overexploitation of either species. However, currently the stock size of both species is increasing and neither species appears to be at risk of over-exploitation.

In the last two years (2019-2020), the combined TAC has been set in line with advice, prior to this, between 2015-2018, the TAC was set 13% above advice. Compliance to the TAC is high, and according to ICES estimations, landings of both species together averaged 84% of the combined TAC from 2015-2019. Looking at the species specific data, black-bellied anglerfish landings have been on average 5% below advice; 2015-2019.

There is no minimum landing size for monkfish (anglerfish). Black-bellied anglerfish reaches maturity at around 65 cm, which corresponds to around 4-5 years. Consequently, these fish are being caught before they have had chance to reproduce.

EU Council Regulation (No. 2406/96) laying down common marketing standards for certain fishery products fixes a minimum weight of 500 g for anglerfish.

Discarding is low, being, on average 12% of the total catch in the last 5-years (2015-2019), and 10% in 2019. Discards are nearly all undersized fish.

Council regulation (EC) No. 1954/2003 established measures for the management of fishing effort in ‘biologically sensitive areas’ west of south-west of Ireland (Divisions 7b, 7j) and in the Celtic Sea (Divisions 7g, 7h), whereby effort must not exceed the average annual effort from 1998-2002.

A Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) which was established in April 2017, South-West England, has made some good progress in tackling some of the main weaknesses in this fishery: reducing discard through Project 50%, and looking into improving understanding of catch composition and survivability of the two anglerfish species. The FIP covers both species of anglerfish, being caught by gillnet, trammel nets and bottom trawling. FIP catches account for ~18% of total catches. The comprehensive FIP is in advanced progress at stage 5, with a projected end date of April 2022.


The UK is due to leave the EU on 31st December 2020, and new UK Fisheries legislation is being developed during 2020. MCS will update ratings with new management information when new legislation comes into force.

In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.
The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota ‘uplift’ being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.
Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels.
The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.
The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Monkfish or black-bellied anglerfish is caught by demersal otter trawls in the Celtic Seas and Bay of Biscay.

Anglerfish are an important component of mixed fisheries, mainly caught with hake, megrim and Nephrops, but also sole, cod, and plaice. The fishery for anglerfish developed in the late 1960s. In recent years, France has taken the vast majority of black-bellied anglerfish (L. budegassa) landings; followed by Spain, Ireland and the UK. Minor landings have been recorded for Belgium, Germany and Portugal. The majority of black-bellied anglerfish is consistently taken by demersal otter trawling, targeting demersal fish; accounting for 77% of catch in 2018. Gillnets (5.8%), beam trawls (6.6%) targeting demersal fish, otter trawls targeting Nephrops (which tend to be further inshore and shallower) (2.9%) and other fisheries (unspecified) (7.2%) also contributed to catch.

Black-bellied anglerfish are most abundant at depths of 200–500 m, and are taken both offshore and inshore. Juveniles are mainly found offshore in the western Celtic Sea and sometimes in the Bay of Biscay. Juvenile fish are easily retained by the minimum mesh size in force (80mm), in the demersal otter trawl fishery.

Demersal otter trawling in the Celtic Seas and Bay of Biscay has some impact upon the seabed, as there is contact with the seabed and therefore risk to habitats. In these ecoregions, impacts include abrasion (this pressure principally affects the seabed habitats and it is associated with bottom-contacting mobile fishing gear), and smothering, which can be caused by bottom trawling in soft sediment areas. The demersal otter trawls are likely to be operating on more sensitive, deeper, muddy ground, whereas the Nephrops trawlers operate on the shelf, where the seafloor communities are better adapted to disturbance. However, most otter trawling occurs within the same historical areas, where yields are high and it is safe to trawl. Moreover, there are several areas of deep-water seabed on which all bottom trawling is banned to protect vulnerable deep-water habitat within the Celtic Seas and Bay of Biscay.

The common skate and spurdogs, are caught as bycatch in demersal trawl fisheries within the Celtic Seas and Bay of Biscay ecoregions, and deep-water sharks are reported to being caught in the mixed deep-water trawl fishery in the Celtic Seas. Therefore, interactions with Endangered, Threatened or Protected (ETP) species are considered to be possible. There have been no reports of bycatch of other non-target species in this fishery, although, incidental bycatch may occur as by nature species close to the sea floor (fish and invertebrate species) share the same habitat as monkfish. Bycatches of non-target species can make up a high proportion of catch weight in demersal otter trawls. EU vessels are required to report significant catches of corals and sponges to assist mapping these communities, and must move fishing operations at least 2-miles when they are encountered.

A number of areas are closed to fishing at certain times of the year, e.g. the Trevose box, an areas of sea around 11,400 square miles extending from Trevose head in Cornwall to the Gower peninsular in South Wales from January to March. This is the spawning period for a number of demersal stocks, while it is primarily intended to reduce catches of spawning cod, other stocks are likely to benefit. However, beam trawlers have been allowed to fish there since 2005.

Anglerfish are ambush predators who feed opportunistically on passing prey, which is attracted using a fleshy lure on the illicium. The diet is dominated by fish and, to a lesser extent, cephalopods. Small gadoids have a relatively high importance in their diet. There are no reports of predators that specifically target anglerfish in European waters. Indirect predation by seals of netted fish is common though and seals may prey directly on anglerfish as well. There have been reports of anglerfish being predated upon by sperm whales, and juvenile fish by large cod.

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish, White
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia

References

EU (2019). Regulation (EU) 2019/472 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 March 2019 establishing a multiannual plan for stocks fished in the Western Waters and adjacent waters, and for fisheries exploiting those stocks, amending Regulations (EU) 2016/1139 and (EU) 2018/973, and repealing Council Regulations (EC) No 811/2004, (EC) No 2166/2005, (EC) No 388/2006, (EC) No 509/2007 and (EC) No 1300/2008. Official Journal of the European Union, L 83. 17 pp. Available at http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg/2019/472/oj [Accessed 15.07.2020]

FAO (2020). Fisheries and resource monitoring system: Angler, western Channel and Bay of Biscay, ICES Advice 2009. Available at http://firms.fao.org/firms/resource/10445/158582/en [Accessed 15.07.2020]

Fishery Progress (2020). UK monkfish – gillnet/trawl. Available at https://fisheryprogress.org/fip-profile/uk-monkfish-gillnettrawl [Accessed 15.07.2020]

ICES (2019). Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Coast ecoregion – Ecosystem overview. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/EcosystemOverview_BayofBiscayandIberianWaters_2019.pdf [Accessed 15.07.2020]

ICES (2019). Celtic Seas Ecoregion – Ecosystem overview. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/EcosystemOverview_CelticSeas_2019.pdf [Accessed 15.07.2020]

ICES (2020). Black-bellied anglerfish (Lophius budegassa) in Subarea 7 and divisions 8.a–b and 8.d (Celtic Seas, Bay of Biscay). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, ank.27.78abd. https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5922. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2020/2020/ank.27.78abd.pdf [Accessed 15.07.2020]

ICES (2020). Working Group for the Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Waters Ecoregion (WGBIE). ICES Scientific Reports. 2:49. http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.6033. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2020/WGBIE_2020.pdf [Accessed 15.07.2020]

Luna, S. and David, E. (2020). Blackbellied angler, Lophius budegassa. Available at https://www.fishbase.se/summary/5094 [Accessed 15.07.2020]

MMO (2019). Fishing Gear requirements and Landing Obligation exemptions 2019 Applicable to Demersal Towed Gears Fishing in the Celtic Sea (Excluding Nephrops Vessels and Beam Trawlers). Available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/824987/Gear_use_-_Celtic_Sea_-_General_Dem_and_Pel_Tow__v2_final_draft.pdf [Accessed 16.07.2020]

WKAngler (2018). Stock Annex: Black-bellied anglerfish (Lophius budegassa) in divisions 7.b–k, 8.a,b,d (west and southwest of Ireland, Bay of Biscay). Available athttps://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Stock%20Annexes/2018/ank.27.78abd_SA.pdf [Accessed 15.07.2020]