Monkfish, Anglerfish

Lophius piscatorius and 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, Bay of Biscay
Stock detail — 7, 8a, 8b, 8d
Certification — FIP Stage 3. More info available [here](https://fisheryprogress.org/fip-profile/uk-monkfish-gillnettrawl)
Picture of Monkfish, Anglerfish

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

Monkfish or anglerfish are vulnerable to over-exploitation as they are long-lived and late to mature. This rating covers two species of anglerfish, which are usually caught together and managed together. Black-bellied anglerfish account for 25-30% of catches, and white anglerfish make up the rest. Black-bellied anglerfish is a data limited stock, but fishing is within sustainable levels, and it seems that stock biomass is increasing. White anglerfish stock is in a very good state, at highest ever levels, and fishing pressure has recently come down to sustainable levels. The two species are not completely separated in the landings and a single Total Allowable Catch (TAC) covers both. This prevents effective control of the individuals species’ exploitation rates, and could lead to 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. On average, the unwanted catch of black-bellied anglerfish over the past 5 years has been 15% and discards are nearly all undersized fish. White anglerfish discard rates are lower, with the 5 year average at 7% and most discards are immature fish (age 1). Juvenile fish are easily retained by the minimum mesh size in force (80mm). Because of its body shape, large head and jaw, the introduction of a minimum landing size for anglerfish is not considered a useful or practical management measure. However, recent EU marketing standards fixed a minimum weight of 500g for anglerfish. Bycatch rates of harbour porpoise in the Celtic Seas ecoregion are highly variable and data is limited, but a recent ICES report (Sept 2018) indicates that modelled total catch rates are above conservation (ASCOBANS) reference points.

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 (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

Stock Area

Celtic Seas, Bay of Biscay

Stock information

This rating covers two species of anglerfish, which are usually caught together and managed together. Black-bellied anglerfish account for 25-30% of catches, and white anglerfish make up the rest.


Black-bellied anglerfish (Lophius budegassa): This is a data limited stock, with a proxy used for fishing pressure, and no reference point available for stock size. Fishing is within sustainable levels, and it seems that stock biomass is increasing. This species has low resilience to fishing pressure. Stock score: 0.5.

Catches have gradually increased since 2006, and the stock size index shows a large increase from 2017-2018. Fishing pressure has been decreasing since 2005 and dropped below FMSY proxy (calculated as the ratio of F:FMSY, and is therefore 1) for the first time in 2017. In 2018 F was 0.73. Recruitment has varied without trend throughout the time-series, with high interannual variability.

ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 12,959 tonnes. This is a 20% increase on the previous year.


White anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius): The stock is in a very good state, at highest ever levels, and fishing pressure has recently come down to sustainable levels. Stock score: 0.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has been increasing since 2005 and is estimated to be the highest in the time-series, increasing from 55,785 tonnes in 2018 to 72,848t in 2019. MSY BTrigger is 22,278t. Fishing mortality (F) dropped below FMSY (0.28) for the first time in 2018, at 0.25. Recruitment has been variable, but there have been good recruitments in recent years, most recently in 2017.

ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for Western waters and adjacent waters is applied, catches in 2020 that correspond to the F ranges in the MAP are between 21,428 tonnes and 42,331 tonnes. According to the MAP, catches higher than those corresponding to FMSY (31,798 tonnes) can only be taken under conditions specified in the MAP, while the entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule. This is a 3% increase on the previous year because of the increase in the stock biomass.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

The EU multiannual plan (MAP) for stocks in in the Western Waters and adjacent waters applies to these stocks. For black-bellied anglerfish, which is data-limited, fishing opportunities should be based on the best available scientific advice. For white anglerfish, which is fully assessed, the MAP includes upper and lower ranges for fishing pressure (F). The two species are not completely separated in the landings and a single Total Allowable Catch (TAC) covers both. This prevents effective control of the individuals species’ exploitation rates, and could lead to 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. The combined TAC was 13% above the combined advice from 2014-2018, but came into line with advice in 2019. According to ICES estimations, landings of both species together averaged 92% of the combined TAC from 2014-2018. Looking at the species-specific data, white anglerfish landings have on average been 8% above advice, and black-bellied anglerfish 4% below advice for the last 5 years.

For white anglerfish, catch by number is generally highest at ages 1 or 2. Catch by weight is highest at ages 3-5. This stock is assumed to mature at age 5.

There are no de-minimis or high-survivability exceptions for allowing discarding of anglerfish. On average, the unwanted catch of black-bellied anglerfish over the past 5 years has been 15% and discards are nearly all undersized fish. White anglerfish discard rates are lower, with the 5 year average at 7%. Again, most discards are immature fish (age 1). For both species, discarding in 2018 was nearly half what it was in 2016. Because of its body shape and large head and jaw, the introduction of a minimum landing size for these species is not considered a useful or practical management measure. However, recent EU marketing standards fixed a minimum weight of 500g for anglerfish.

Fishing effort within ‘biologically sensitive areas’ West and South-West of Ireland (7b and j) and in the Celtic Sea (7g and h) must not exceed average annual effort from 1998-2002.

A Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) in South-West England has made some good progress in tackling some of the main weaknesses in this fishery: reducing discards through Project 50%, and looking into improving understanding of catch composition and survivability of the two species.


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

On average between the two species, around 70% of the 2018 catch was by demersal otter trawls for demersal fish, 3% by otter trawls for Nephrops (which tend to use a smaller mesh size), 8% by beam trawls, and 10% by gillnets. Catches are mainly by France, UK, Ireland, and Spain. Anglerfish is an important component of mixed fisheries, mainly caught with hake, megrim, and Nephrops, but also sole, cod, and plaice.

Anglerfish are targeted using tangle nets (a type of gillnet) of large (over 200 mm mesh size) in mixed fisheries targeting anglerfish (monkfish), rays, turbot and brill, mostly on the continental shelf, but also in deeper waters down to a maximum of 600 m depth. These nets are set on the seabed with anchors and marker buoys at both ends. They can be several kilometres in length and are set for 24-72 hours; in some deeper waters there are regulations governing soak times to a maximum of 72 hours. This limit prevents loss of quality of the fish that have been caught, which is a cause of discarding. The catch is simply snared by entanglement in the large, fine meshes.

Tangle nets set for anglerfish are likely to be selective because of their large mesh size, but in certain areas edible crabs are taken as by-catch. Interactions with seals who allegedly steal fish from nets and then can also become entangled themselves is problematic as no practical method for deterring them from nets is currently available. Gillnets and fixed nets can be very size selective, but can bycatch species such as sharks, cetaceans and other marine mammals. Reports indicate that there is concern regarding the bycatch of cetaceans, particularly harbour porpoise, by gillnets. 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. Progress on this issue is being made in some areas, with Defra 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 and VMS in time, and trialling the use of pingers and other mitigation technologies, which are known to deter harbour porpoise from entanglement in nets. MCS is pleased to see this progress, but notes that if catch rates of harbour porpoise do not show a decrease then scoring of this capture method may be affected. Because of gillnets’ durability (they are made of nylon), if lost, they can continue to fish for several weeks before becoming tangled and bundled up, a phenomenon known as ‘ghost fishing’. However, static nets, as with all gear, represent an investment by fishermen, and therefore there are incentives to avoid losing or damaging gear.

The effects on seabed habitats of this gear have not been studied extensively. Seabed disturbance is likely to be low, but there may be a small risk of snagging of more delicate organisms. In deeper waters, sponge and coral habitats are identified as vulnerable. In order to protect vulnerable species, the EU has banned tangle netting below 600 m depth, and restricted its use between 600 and 200 m depth; in international waters all static gear fishing is banned below 200 m depth. Since it is believed that anglerfish spawn in deep waters below 600m, the EU measures are likely also to protect the spawning stock of anglerfish.

A number of areas are closed to fishing at certain times of the year, e.g. the Trevose box, an area of sea around 11,400 square miles extending from Trevose head in Cornwall to the Gower peninsular in South Wales from January - March. This is the spawning period for a number of demersal stocks, so 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.

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
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia

References

Froese R. and Pauly D. (Editors), 2019. Lophius budegassa, Blackbellied angler. Available at: https://www.fishbase.se/summary/Lophius-budegassa.html [Accessed on 18.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Working Group for the Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Waters Ecoregion (WGBIE). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:31. 692 pp. doi: 10.17895/ices.pub.5299. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2019/WGBIE/01%20WGBIE%202019.pdf [Accessed on 18.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. 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, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, ank.27.78abd, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4755. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/ank.27.78abd.pdf [Accessed on 18.07.2019]

ICES. 2019. White anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) in Subarea 7 and divisions 8.a-b and 8.d (Celtic Seas, Bay of Biscay). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, mon.27.78abd, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4765. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/mon.27.78abd.pdf [Accessed on 18.07.2019].

Seafish, 2016. RASS Profile: Anglerfish, Celtic Sea and Biscay, Tangle nets. Available at https://www.seafish.org/risk-assessment-for-sourcing-seafood/profile/anglerfish-celtic-sea-and-biscay-tangle-nets [Accessed on 18.07.2019]