Monkfish, Anglerfish, Black-bellied

Lophius budegassa

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Gill or fixed net
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 four 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 beam trawl fishery in these ecoregions. Habitat impacts from beam trawling include abrasion and smoothing, as the fishing gear makes contact with the seabed. Bycatch of harbour porpoises in set-nets is occurring, to the extent that the local population of the species may become extinct.


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 (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%).


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.

Both the EU and UK have fishery management measures in place, which can include catch limits, targets for population sizes and fishing mortality, and controls on what fishing gear can be used and where. In the EU, compliance with regulations has been variable, and there are ongoing challenges with implementing some of them. There was a target for fishing to be at Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2020, but this was not achieved. The Landing Obligation (LO), an EU law that the UK has kept after Brexit, requires all fish and shellfish to be landed, even if they are unwanted (over-quota or below minimum size). It aims to promote more selective fishing methods, reduce bycatch, and improve recording of everything that is caught, not just what is wanted. Compliance with the LO is generally poor and actual levels of discards are difficult to quantify using the current fisheries observer programme.

In the UK, it is too early to tell how effective management is, as the Fisheries Act only came into force in January 2021. The Act requires the development of Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) (replacing EU Multi-Annual Plans) but there are no details yet on how and when these will be developed. FMPs have the potential to be very important tools for managing UK fisheries, although data limitations may delay them for some stocks. MCS is keen to see FMPs for all commercially exploited stocks, especially where stocks are depleted, that include:
Targets for fishing pressure and biomass, and additional management when those targets are not being met
Timeframes for stock recovery
Technologies such as Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) to support data collection and improve transparency and accountability
Consideration of wider environmental impacts of the fishery

Capture Information

Criterion score: 1 info

Monkfish or black-bellied anglerfish is caught by gillnets 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. Anglerfish are targeted by gillnetters (using mesh size 120-219 mm) in the shallower Celtic Sea, where a large number of inshore gillnetters (<12 m) are active. Gillnet fisheries around the Irish coast target anglerfish seasonally. Prior to 2006, UK, French, German, and Spanish gillnetters operated in deep waters of Subareas 6 and 7, targeting anglerfish among other species. This fishery stopped or seriously reduced from 2006, following EU regulation of deep-water gillnetting at depths below 600 m.

Fixed net fisheries, for anglerfish, in the Celtic Seas and Bay of Biscay have little to no impact upon the seabed. Gillnets and fixed nets can be very selective, but incidental catch (bycatch) of non-target species can occur. Gillnets cannot be specifically targeted to give clean catches of anglerfish and a wide range of other non-target species can become enmeshed, particularly in demersal set gillnets. Gillnets can bycatch species such as sharks, cetaceans and other marine mammals.

In the Celtic Seas, one of the areas of most concern is off the South West of England where areas of higher gillnet fishing effort coincide with areas of larger harbour porpoise populations. However, these reports are based on highly uncertain data, which cannot indicate the likelihood of bycatch either causing populations to decline or preventing populations from recovering. Any overlap between porpoises and gillnets is likely to create a bycatch problem; even gillnet fisheries that currently appear to have low bycatch (notwithstanding the low levels of monitoring or reporting) may pose a risk if porpoise distribution and/or fishing effort changes. Progress on this issue is being made in some areas; DEFRA are leading work to improve monitoring and mitigation of cetacean bycatch ( Hauling Up Solutions€). A pilot project trialling self-reporting of bycatch is taking place in Cornwall, potentially backed up by electronic monitoring VMS in time, and trialling the use of pingers and other mitigation technologies, which are known to deter harbour porpoise from entanglement in nets.

In the Bay of Biscay, observation of marine mammal bycatch has occurred in certain fisheries off France and in a few off Galicia. Reports indicate that there is concern regarding the bycatch of cetaceans, particularly harbour porpoise, by gillnets. Endangered, harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) are being caught as bycatch off Iberia, in set-nets to the extent that the local population of the species may become extinct. It is estimated that in the Celtic Seas (including the eastern Bay of Biscay) in 2017 between 536 €“1409 harbour porpoises were killed by net fisheries (trammel net; set gillnet; driftnet) (>2% of the population abundance) which exceeds both ASCOBANS thresholds. Set net fisheries, have caught common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) and striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) an IUCN listed Threatened species.

No anthropogenic mortality (or bycatch) limits have been defined for the common dolphin in the Northeast Atlantic. Based on the number of strandings, it was estimated that in 2019 up to 11,000 common dolphins were killed in the Bay of Biscay by fishing, the highest ever recorded level: this level of mortality would likely contribute to a decline in the common dolphin population there. France is carrying out research and developing plans (including acoustic repellents, avoidance tactics, better data collection and quantified mortality reduction targets) to reduce dolphin mortality from bycatch. Some measures are already required under EU legislation, but these have not yet resulted in a reduction in bycatch. In May 2020, ICES concluded that proposed measures by NGOs for the common dolphin in the Bay of Biscay are appropriate to reduce the bycatch. However, several spatio-temporal and technical amendments are recommended. ICES advises, for the common dolphin in the Bay of Biscay, a combination of temporal closures of all metiers of concern and application of pingers on pair trawlers to mitigate bycatch outside of the period of closure. Application of ICES advice and the appropriate proposed measures is yet to be displayed.

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.

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.


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
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish, White
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Spurdog, Spiny Dogfish, Dogfish, Rock Salmon or Flake
Sturgeon (Farmed)


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