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, Rockall and West of Scotland, Kattegat and Skagerrak
Stock detail — 4, 6, 3a
Picture of Monkfish, Anglerfish

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Updated: November 2020

This rating covers two species of anglerfish, which are usually caught and managed together. These are data limited stocks, and trends are used to indicate stock state. Fishing pressure has been increasing since 2015 and is now significantly above the average relative harvest rate. It seems that stock biomass has been decreasing in response, but remains above the average estimated stock levels. Therefore, there is concern for fishing pressure, but no concern for the current biomass. White anglerfish has a medium resilience to fishing pressure, whereas black-bellied anglerfish has low resilience. The former is thought to comprise the majority of catches.

The fisheries for the two species are managed under combined Total Allowable Catches (TACs) that don’t match the stock area. Anglerfish 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 possibly lead to overexploitation of either species.

Trawling can cause abrasion and smothering to seabed habitat from mobile bottom contact, especially in deeper waters, but there are some closed areas to protect vulnerable corals and sponges.

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: 0.75 info

This rating covers two species of anglerfish, or monkfish – Lophius piscatorius (white anglerfish) and L. budegassa (black-bellied anglerfish) which are usually caught and managed together. Current stock trends highlight some concern over fishing pressure but no concern over biomass levels. White anglerfish has a medium resilience to fishing pressure, while black-bellied anglerfish has low resilience. The former is thought to make up the majority of catches.

These are data limited stocks, and reference points or proxies have not been defined to indicate whether the biomass and fishing pressure are at sustainable levels. However, recent trends have displayed a decreasing stock size and increasing harvest rate, which is cause for concern. The stock appears to have increased from 2011 (stock size indicator value of 33) to its peak in 2017 (88), bolstered by a large number of small fish entering the stock in 2013. The stock has since decreased (59 in 2019), but remains 10% above the average for the past 16 years (53). The harvest rate has been increasing since 2015 (historical low of 0.76) and increased from 0.91, in 2018, to 1.22, in 2019, significantly above the average for the past 13 years (1).

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.

ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches in 2021 should be no more than 17,645 tonnes. The advised catch for 2021 is lower than the 2020 advice because of the decrease in the stock index ratio, from an estimated 81,168 tonnes to 58,575. As the stock size index is estimated to have decreased by more than 20%, the uncertainty cap was applied. The precautionary buffer was last applied in 2019 and its application has, therefore, not been considered again.

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., landings-at-age data, meaning there are no short-term projections for this stock.

Management

Criterion score: 0.5 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 possibly lead to overexploitation of either species.

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

There are two European Community TACs in this area, but they do not match the stock unit and do not include Norwegian catches. One covers ICES areas 4 and 2a (North Sea and Norwegian Sea); the second covers 5b, 6, 12, and 14 (Faroes, West of Scotland, North of Azores, East Greenland). There is no TAC for Division 3a – catches in this area were 914 tonnes in 2018 – the second highest on records, 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 scientific advice, but have recently (2017 onwards) been set in line with advice. When taking the additional quota for Norway into account (now 1,700 tonnes per year), TACs in the last 5 years (2016-20) averaged 106% of advice (108% in 2020). Total catches, including discards, tend to be at or below the TAC, averaging 91% of it over the last four years (2016-19). In 2018 and 2019, there has been an unusually low uptake of the quota (81% in 2018 and 66% in 2019).

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 and 2019 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 Landings Size; therefore anglerfish or monkfish may be fished before they have had chance to reproduce. Overall discarding was 2.3% of the total catch in 2019, a slight increase on the 2018 rate of 1.5%. There are no de-minimis or high-survivability exceptions for allowing discarding of anglerfish, and all catch must be landed.

Because of its body shape and large head and jaw, the introduction of a minimum landing size for these species has not been considered a useful or practical management measure. However, EU Council Regulation (No. 2406/96) laying down common marketing standards for certain fishery products, fixes a minimum weight of 500 g for anglerfish.

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.


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: 0.5 info

Anglerfish, also known as monkfish, are mostly caught as bycatch of demersal whitefish and prawn fisheries, in the North Sea, Rockall and West of Scotland, Skagerrak and Kattegat. In 2018, of the total monkfish caught in this area, demersal trawls accounted for around 70% and gillnets accounted for around 17%, with Nephrops trawls (which tend to be further inshore and shallower) 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.

North Sea benthic habitats can be impacted by bottom trawling, which is associated with surface abrasion (defined as the damage to seabed surface features), and smothering which can be caused by bottom trawling in soft sediment areas. The extent, magnitude, and impact of mobile bottom-contacting fishing gear, on the seabed and benthic habitats varies geographically across the North Sea.

Trawling is also associated with discarding of unwanted fish, i.e. undersized, non-quota and/or over-quota species. Anglerfish are subject to significant 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 expanded into deeper waters, areas believed to be a refuge for adult anglerfish, increased the vulnerability of the stock to over-exploitation. However, recent restriction 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 incidental refuge for spawning monkfish. Large areas near the Wyville-Thompson ridge are also closed to demersal trawling which affords protection for corals in these areas. EU vessels are required to report significant catches of corals and sponges to assist mapping of VME communities, and must move fishing operations at least 2-miles when they are encountered.

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 on habitats from trawling on coral gardens and sponge concentrations.

In the Greater North Sea, some fisheries have the potential to take protected, endangered, or threatened species (i.e., seabirds and marine mammals) as non-targeted bycatch. Recording of the catch of these species has been undertaken in a few North Sea fisheries, where there is perceived particular risk of such bycatch. A EU-funded project (fishPi project, 2016) analysed risk from various gears to seabirds and marine mammals and determined that observations were most needed in fisheries using set gillnets, trammel nets, driftnets, and bottom trawls. Based on patchy observer information the bycatch of harbour porpoise in the Greater North Sea is below assumed unsustainable levels. Eight species of elasmobranchs that occur in the Greater North Sea are listed on OSPAR’s list of threatened and declining species - some of which are rare (e.g. basking shark, angel shark) but seldom caught in fisheries.

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. There are no reports of predators that specifically target anglerfish in European waters.


Demersal otter trawls use doors to hold nets open that penetrate the seabed, resulting in the abrasion of habitat features. The ground ropes, sweeps and bridles of the trawl can have similar abrasive impact. Various closures are in place in the area of this stock, including UK and European Marine Protected Areas. Some MPAs are designated to protect benthic features. If those MPAs were found to be subjected to bottom trawling, MCS would consider it a default red rating unless there is evidence (e.g. environmental impact assessment) indicating the activity does not damage the integrity of the site.

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
Spurdog, Spiny Dogfish, Dogfish, Rock Salmon or Flake
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 10.11.2020]

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 10.11.2020]

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 09.11.2020]

Holah, H. (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 http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Stock%20Annexes/2019/anf.27.3.a46_SA.pdf [Accessed 06.11.2020]

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 10.11.2020]

ICES (2019). Greater North Sea Ecoregion – Ecosystem overview. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/EcosystemOverview_GreaterNorthSea_2019.pdf [Accessed 10.11.2020]

ICES (2019). Working Group on Bycatch of Protected Species (WGBYC). ICES Scientific Reports: 1:15. 163pp. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/HAPISG/2019/ICES%20WGBYC%20Report%202019.pdf [Accessed 10.11.2020]

ICES (2020). 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). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, anf.27.3a46. https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5926. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2020/2020/anf.27.3a46.pdf [Accessed 06.11.2020]

ICES (2020). Greater North Sea Ecoregion – Fisheries overview, including mixed-fisheries considerations. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/FisheriesOverview_GreaterNorthSea_2019.pdf [Accessed 10.11.2020]

ICES (2020). Working Group for the Celtic Seas Ecoregion (WGCSE). ICES Scientific Reports, 2:40. 924 pp. http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.5978. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2020/WGCSE/wgcse_2020.pdf [Accessed 06.11.2020]

Luna, S. and David, E. (2020). Black-bellied angler, Lophius budegassa. Available at https://www.fishbase.se/summary/5094 [Accessed 06.11.2020]

Luna, S. and Bailly, N. (2020). White angler, Lophius piscatorius. Available at https://www.fishbase.de/summary/Lophius-piscatorius.html [Accessed 06.11.2020]

Marine Stewardship Council (2020). ISF Iceland Anglerfish. Available at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/isf-iceland-anglerfish/@@view [Accessed 09.11.2020]

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]

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 10.11.2020]

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 10.11.2020]