Monkfish, Anglerfish, White

Lophius piscatorius

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, White

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020

White anglerfish stock is in a very good state, at highest ever levels, and fishing pressure is within sustainable limits. The EU multiannual plan (MAP) for stocks in the Western Waters and adjacent waters applies to this stock. Anglerfish are usually caught together and managed together, management of white anglerfish 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 info

The stock is in a very healthy state and fishing pressure is within sustainable limits.

The spawning–stock biomass (SSB) has been increasing since 2005 and is estimated to be at the highest level in the time-series (1986-2020), increasing from 20,018 tonnes (2005) to 68,952 tonnes in 2020. SSB remains above the maximum sustainable yield (MSY Btrigger) of 22,278 tonnes (2020). In 2020, the ratio of B:BMSY was 3.1. Fishing mortality (F) dropped below the maximum sustainable yield (FMSY) (0.28) for the first time in 2018. F has remained below FMSY since 2018; F=0.22 (2019). In 2019, the ratio of F:FMSY was 0.79. Recruitment (R) has been variable, but there have been good recruitment’s in recent years, mostly since 2017.

ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for Western Waters and adjacent waters is applied, catches in 2021 that correspond to the F ranges in the MAP are between 23,320 tonnes and 45,996 tonnes. According to the MAP, catches higher than those corresponding to FMSY (34,579 tonnes) can only be taken under conditions specified in the MAP, whilst the entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule. The advice has increased marginally from last years advice because of the increase in the stock biomass.

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. The plan specifies conditions for setting fishing opportunities, depending on stock status and making use of the FMSY range for the stock. ICES considers that the FMSY range for this stock used in the MAP is precautionary.

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, white anglerfish landings have been on average 8% below advice; 2015-2019.There is no minimum landing size for monkfish (anglerfish). White anglerfish reaches maturity at around 62 cm, which corresponds approximately to 4 years. They are estimate to mature at around 80 cm (5 years) in Irish waters. Catch by number is generally highest at ages 1 or 2, and catch by weight is highest at ages 3-5. As the stock is assumed to mature at age 5, 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 has been minor in recent years, being, on average 8% of the total catch in the last 5-years (2015-2019), and 6% in 2019. Most discards are immature fish aged 1.

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 white anglerfish is caught by demersal otter trawls in the southern 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 white anglerfish (L. piscatorius) landings; followed by the UK, Ireland and Spain. Minor landings have been recorded for Belgium, Germany and Portugal. The majority of white anglerfish is consistently taken by demersal otter trawling, targeting demersal fish; accounting for 65% of catch in 2018. Gillnets (15.1%), beam trawls (10.1%) targeting demersal fish, otter trawls targeting Nephrops (which tend to be further inshore and shallower) (2.8%) and other fisheries (unspecified) (7.2%) also contributed to catch.

White anglerfish are most abundant at depths of 200–800 m and are taken both offshore and inshore. Juveniles are mainly found offshore; medium-sized fish migrate inshore and the adults move offshore again. 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). White anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) in Subarea 7 and in divisions 8.a–b and 8.d (southern Celtic Seas, Bay of Biscay). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, mon.27.78abd. https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5925. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2020/2020/mon.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]

WKAngler (2018). Stock Annex: White anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) in divisions 7.b–k, 8.a,b,d (southern Celtic Seas, Bay of Biscay). Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Stock%20Annexes/2018/mon.27.78abd_SA.pdf [Accessed 15.07.2020]