Monkfish, Anglerfish

Lophius piscatorius and Lophius budegassa

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea, West of Scotland and Rockall, Kattegat and Skagerrak
Stock detail — 4, 6, 3a
Picture of Monkfish, Anglerfish

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: November 2019.

This rating covers two species of anglerfish, which are usually caught together and managed together. There is no information on the proportions of each species caught, but the majority of the stock abundance (93%) is made up of white anglerfish, and most catches are from the northern parts of the stock area, where white anglerfish predominate. These are data limited stocks, and reference points or proxies haven’t been defined to indicate whether the biomass and fishing pressure are at sustainable levels. The stock appeared to increase from 2011 to peak in 2017, bolstered by a large number of small fish entering the stock in 2013, and has since decreased. The harvest rate has increased since a historical low in 2015. Both stock size and harvest rate appear to be close to the average for the past 10-15 years, and so the fishery currently seems to be stable. However, if these recent trends continue there may be cause for concern. The fisheries for the two anglerfish species are managed under two common total allowable catches (TACs), which do not match the stock area. They are usually caught together and are not separated in the landings statistics. Management of the two species in this way risks preventing effective control of the single-species exploitation rates; it could potentially lead to overexploitation of either species. Demersal trawling and gillnetting are the two most common capture methods. Gillnetting can be associated with bycatch of vulnerable species, such as harbour porpoise, but there is not enough data to assess the impact this may be having on populations. Gillnetting is more targeted than trawling, with lower discard rates of small anglerfish. Trawling can have seabed impacts, especially in deeper waters, but there are some closed areas to protect vulnerable corals and sponges.

MSC-certified anglerfish is available from Iceland, and this fishery is required to implement a Harvest Control Rule as well as mitigate impacts on bycatch species and habitats.

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, L. piscatorius (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: 0.25 info

Stock Area

North Sea, West of Scotland and Rockall, Kattegat and Skagerrak

Stock information

This rating covers two species of anglerfish - Lophius piscatorius (white anglerfish) and L. budegassa (black-bellied anglerfish), which are usually caught and managed together. These are data limited stocks, and reference points or proxies haven’t been defined to indicate whether the biomass and fishing pressure are at sustainable levels. Black-bellied anglerfish has a low resilience to fishing pressure, while white anglerfish has a medium resilience. There is no information on the proportions of each species caught, but the majority of the stock abundance (93%) is made up of white anglerfish, and most catches are from the northern parts of the stock area, where white anglerfish predominate. Both stock size and harvest rate appear to be close to the average for the past 10-15 years, and so the fishery currently seems to be stable. However, if the recent trends (decreasing stock size and increasing harvest rate) continue there may be cause for concern.

The stock appeared to increase from 2011 to peak in 2017, bolstered by a large number of small fish entering the stock in 2013, and has since slightly decreased. The harvest rate has increased since a historical low in 2015. White anglerfish is predominant throughout the area, with black-bellied anglerfish occurring in greater density towards the southern part of the area. Based on surveys from 2007-2016, it is estimated that black-bellied anglerfish comprises only a small proportion of the estimated stock abundance, at roughly 7%. The majority of landings are from the northern North Sea (13,391 in 2018) and West of Scotland (4,292) - areas where white anglerfish is predominant, and therefore it is possible that Lophius piscatorius comprises the majority of catches.

ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 22,056 tonnes. This is 30% lower than the 2019 advice, which was 31,690t, because the decreasing stock size has resulted in a precautionary buffer being applied to catch advice.

There is some uncertainty in the assessment - the survey area misses out the central and southern North Sea and the Kattegat and Skagerrak, which account for 8% of landings. Discard data for the gillnet fishery, which accounts for 17% of catches, is incomplete. Both of these issues may affect estimates of the harvest rate.

The stock was last benchmarked in 2018, but there were no changes to the assessment methodology. There is no age-based assessment, e.g. no landings-at-age data, meaning there are no short term projections for the stock.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

The fisheries for the two anglerfish species are managed under two common total allowable catches (TACs), which do not match the stock area. They are usually caught together and are not separated in the landings statistics. Management of the two species in this way risks preventing effective control of the single-species exploitation rates; it could potentially lead to overexploitation of either species.

The EU multiannual plan (MAP) for stocks in Western Waters and adjacent waters applies to these stocks in EU waters. There are two European Community Total Allowable Catches (TACs), but they don’t match the stock unit and don’t include Norwegian catches. One covers ICES areas 4 and 2a (North Sea and Norwegian Sea) while the other covers 5b, 6, 12, and 14 (Faroes, West of Scotland, North of Azores, East Greenland). There is no TAC for Division 3.a - catches in this area were 914 tonnes in 2018 - the second highest on record, indicating this area of the fishery is developing. As a result of this mismatch, there is a potential for catches to exceed advice. TACs have historically been set higher than the advice, but have recently (2017 onwards) been in line with it. When taking the additional quota for Norway into account (around 1,700t per year), TACs in the last 5 years averaged 109% of the advice (104% from 2017-2019). Total catches, including discards, tend to be at or below the TAC, averaging 95% of it over the last five years. In 2018, the advice was for total catches of 26,408 tonnes and the TAC was 25,405t plus the 1,700t Norway quota. There was an unusually low uptake of the quota (80%), with landings at 21,752t and discards/unwanted catches at 326t.

In years when TACs have been more restrictive, e.g. before 1998-2005 and again in 2016/2017, there has been suspected high-grading, misreporting, discarding and black landings. This has not been a concern for 2018 owing to the lower uptake of the TAC. However, there are concerns for the accuracy of commercial catch data owing to this history.

In general, discarding in this fishery is relatively low due to high market value and no Minimum Landing Size. Overall discarding was 1.5% of total catch in 2018, a reduction on the 2017 rate of 3.4%. Demersal TR2 trawlers had the highest discard rate due to more restrictive quota share, 9.9% in 2018 down from 20.9% in 2017 and 43.9 in 2016. From 1 January 2019, all caught anglerfish must be retained under the discard ban of the EU landing obligation regulation.

Because of its body shape, large head and jaw, the introduction of a minimum landing size for these species is not considered a useful or practical management measure.

Anglerfish caught by the Icelandic fleet within the Icelandic EEZ are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, with requirements to develop a Harvest Control Rule for the stock.


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

In 2018, of the 21,898t of monkfish that was caught in this area, demersal trawls accounted for around 70% and gillnets accounted for around 17%, with Nephrops trawls and other gears making up the rest. The majority of catches are by Scotland (around 60%), and to a lesser extent Denmark, Norway, France, and Ireland.

In the North Sea, anglerfish is caught as bycatch in demersal whitefish and prawn fisheries. Because of its body shape, large head and jaw, juvenile anglerfish are easily retained by the minimum mesh size in force and the introduction of a minimum landing size for them is not considered a useful or practical management measure. However, recent EU marketing standards fix a minimum weight of 500g for anglerfish.

There is potential for damage to the seabed by trawling. Trawling is also associated with discarding of unwanted fish, i.e. undersized and/or non-quota and/or over-quota species. Anglerfish are subject to significant fishing mortality before attaining full maturity, and a high proportion of anglerfish catches consist of small fish, some of which is known to be discarded. It is thought that the fishery has also expanded into deeper waters, areas believed to be a refuge for adult anglerfish, increasing the vulnerability of the stock to over-exploitation. However, recent restrictions on fishing effort and TACs for other deep-water species have also resulted in reduced fishing on monkfish in deeper waters. In addition a number of closed areas, established on the Rockall and Hatton Banks in 2006 and the Darwin Mounds to protect cold-water corals, potentially provide further incidental protection for spawning monkfish. Large areas near the Wyville-Thompson ridge are also closed to demersal trawling which affords protection for corals in these areas.

Anglerfish caught by the Icelandic fleet within the Icelandic EEZ are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, with requirements to better track and mitigate impacts from gillnets on other species, including harbour porpoise, northern fulmar, common loon, and harbour seal, and impacts on habitats from trawling on coral gardens and sponge concentrations.

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

ASCOBANS, 2009. Conservation Plan for Harbour Porpoises in the North Sea as adopted at the 6th Meeting of the Parties to ASCOBANS, Bonn, Germany. 16 - 18 September 2009. Available at https://www.ascobans.org/sites/default/files/document/ASCOBANS_NorthSeaPlan_MOP6.pdf [Accessed on 31.07.2019].

Calderan, S. and Leaper, R., 2019. Review of harbour porpoise bycatch in UK waters and recommendations for management. January 2019, WWF. Available at https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2019-04/Review_of_harbour_porpoise_in_UK_waters_2019.pdf [Accessed on 31.07.2019].

ICES, 2018. ICES Advice: Bycatch of small cetaceans and other marine animals - review of national reports under Council Regulation (EC) No. 812/2004 and other information. Published 11 September 2018. Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2018/2018/byc.eu.pdf [Accessed on 31.07.2019].

Froese R. and Pauly D. (Editors), 2019. Lophius budegassa, Blackbellied angler. Available at: https://www.fishbase.in/summary/Lophius-budegassa.html [Accessed on 08.11.2019].

Froese R. and Pauly D. (Editors), 2019. Lophius piscatorius: Angler. Available at: https://www.fishbase.in/summary/Lophius-piscatorius.html [Accessed on 08.11.2019].

ICES. 2019. Anglerfish (Lophius budegassa, Lophius piscatorius) in subareas 4 and 6 and Division 3.a (North Sea, Rockall and West of Scotland, Skagerrak and Kattegat). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, anf.27.3a46. doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4778. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/anf.27.3a46.pdf [Accessed on 08.11.2019].

ICES. 2019. Working Group for the Celtic Seas Ecoregion (WGCSE). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:29. 1587 pp. http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.4982. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2019/WGCSE/01_WGCSE_2019.pdf [Accessed on 12.11.2019].

ICES, 2019. Stock Annex: Anglerfish (Lophius budegassa, Lophius piscatorius) in subareas 4 and 6, and in Division 3.a (North Sea, Rockall and West of Scotland, Skagerrak and Kattegat). Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Stock%20Annexes/2019/anf.27.3.a46_SA.pdf [Accessed on 24.02.2019].

MSC, 2019. Marine Stewardship Council: ISF Iceland anglerfish. Available at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/isf-iceland-anglerfish/@@assessments [Accessed on 12.11.2019].

Northridge, S., Kingston, A., Mackay, A. and Lonergan, M. (2011). Bycatch of Vulnerable Species: Understanding the Process and Mitigating the Impacts. Final Report to Defra Marine and Fisheries Science Unit, Project no MF1003. University of St Andrews. Defra, London, 99pp. Available at http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=MF1003-FINALRevisedAugust2011.pdf [Accessed on 31.07.2019].

Tindall, C., Hetherington, S., Bell, C., Deaville, R., Barker, J., Borrow, K., Oakley, M., Bendall, V., Engelhard, G. (Eds), 2019. Hauling Up Solutions: Reducing Cetacean Bycatch in UK Fisheries. Final Workshop Report. 31 pp. Available at https://www.cefas.co.uk/media/201924/hauling_up_solutions-workshop-report-final_web.pdf [Accessed on 31.07.2019].