The stock of monkfish in our area has not been well studied but landings have remained relatively stable and fishing effort for this species across the whole European fleet in our area has been reduced. The studies that have been carried out have shown that the stocks are healthy and increasing, but much more research and a detailed stock assessment in our area is needed. Monkfish are long lived and vulnerable to fishing effort but reduction in quotas and restrictions on deep water netting for monkfish have improved the sustainability of this stock. The use of acoustic pingers in all gill net fisheries outside the 6 mile limit have also reduced the problem of accidental bycatch of cetaceans. Cornwall’s fishing fleet is small scale in comparison to those of other parts of Europe. Cornish fishermen have cooperated fully with fisheries scientists in improving selectivity of gear, and carried out a major research project on Western anglerfish between 2003 and 2012 until government funding was pulled. Fisheries scientists advised an increase in quota for monkfish of 20% in 2014, and in 2015 the quota has remained the same following scientific advice. A Fisheries Improvement Plan (FIP) has been set up by the industry with the aim of improving sustainabiliy of the Western and Channel Monkfish fishery. Best choice is net or demersal trawl caught monkfish landed by day boats to Cornish ports.
Updated July 2018
Monkfish are a slow moving fish that waits on the seabed for its prey, small fish, which it lures to its huge mouth using a modified dorsal fin-ray as a lure. Two species of monkfish are caught by Cornish fishermen. The white monkfish Lophius piscatorius and the less common, black bellied monkfish Lophius budegassa. Monkfish are a long-lived species. Maximum reported age is 24 years. Females mature at 9-11 years at about 70 - 90cm, males at around 6 years at 50cms. Females can attain a length of 2m and a weight of 40kgs. Males rarely grow beyond 1m. Monkfish spawn between January and July, in deep water off the edge of the continental shelf, in water depths down to 1000m. They do not spawn in the areas most commonly fished by Cornish fishermen. Eggs are released in a buoyant, gelatinous ribbon or 'egg veil' that may measure more than 10m in length. Monkfish are also found in coastal waters with the continental shelf of the Cornish coast being an important area for juveniles. The species vulnerability score is high (69% for L. budegassa and 72% for L.piscatorius). (Cheung et all 2009, www.fishbase.org).
Anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius and Lophius budegassa) are assessed separately but managed under a single TAC. Assessments for these species in the Northwestern waters region do not occur for two reasons; biological uncertainty over aging data and lack of reporting of data. The standard method of ageing fish is to count the rings in the fishes otoliths (ear bones). However with angler and monk fish there is uncertainty on the number of growth rings laid down each year so no age information is available and age based assessments can not be conducted. In addition not all data on landings and discards required under the DCF is provided by all Member States to the ICES working group compromising the ability of robust assessment. Data Deficient fisheries in EU waters 2013. DG Fisheries EU.
Since 1994 landings of monkfish to Cornish ports have been steady at between 1500 and 2000 tonnes per year (MMO landings data). This is approximately one twentieth of the total landings by the EU fleet (42,500 tonnes in 2014).
Stocks of the two species of monkfish caught in this area have not been studied in a high level of detail, but the survey results that ICES have published show an increase in the biomass and abundance of both species since 1997.
Funding for monkfish research by the UK government has been cut, but the CEFAS Fisheries science partnership work carried out from Newlyn between 2003 and 2012 showed that catches remained steady. Fishermen have shown a willingness to trial more selective trawl designs as demonstrated in 'Project 50%.' Fishing effort on this stock from the Cornish fleet has decreased due to decommissioning of beam trawlers in the 1990’s, and fishing effort across Europe has also been reduced. “Effort of many commercial fishing fleets in Divisions VIIb–k and VIIIa,b,d has declined progressively since the early 1990s” (ICES).
In 2014 ICES advised that quota should be increased by 20% to keep up with biomass increase and in 2015. 2016 and 2017 they advised that the quota of monkfish could be kept the same.
The majority of monkfish catches consist of immature fish (ICES). There are indications that discarding of small anglerfish has increased in recent years. This is due to the shelf being a nursery area for the stock. Brood stock in deeper water are not being targeted by fishermen.
According to Seafish RASS the recruitment (survival rate of juveniles joining the population) fluctuates, and good years for this were 2008, 2011, and 2012. This explains why there appear to be more small monkfish on the fishing grounds in 2014. Fluctuation of populations is natural and short term rises and falls in stocks should not be confused with long term trends.
IUCN list monkfish as 'least concern' as a ‘common and widespread’ species with no known threats. Fishing effort across the EU fleet on monkfish has decreased; see graph below from ICES. Landings per unit effort have increased (ICES).
Monk catches are limited across the European fleet by a quota system. There are CIFCA bylaws and MMO rules on mesh size and trawl design. All fishing vessels are licenced. All landings are recorded using electronic logbooks, and vessels are monitored by satellite VMS systems. Vessels over 12 m fishing outside the 6 mile limit have to use 'pingers' to prevent cetacean bycatch. These are not mandatory for smaller vessels operating within the 6 mile limit.
There is no minimum landing size for monkfish, but an EU Council Regulation (EC) No. 2406/96 laying down common marketing standards for certain fishery products fixes a minimum weight of 500g.
Fishing effort is restricted by Council Regulation (EC) No. 1954/2003 established measures for the management of fishing effort in a “biologically sensitive area” in Divisions VIIb, VIIj, VIIg, and VIIh. Effort exerted within the “biologically sensitive area” by the vessels of each EU Member Country may not exceed their average annual effort (calculated over the period 1998–2002).
Tangle nets used to target monk and turbot have a minimum mesh size of 220mm (10.5”).
A recent law has tightened up control of tangle net fishing on the shelf edge which should reduce risks to monkfish stocks. Regulation EU227/2013 ‘In light of advice from STECF, fishing with gillnets and entangling nets in ICES divisions IIIa, VIa, VIb, VIIb, VIIc, VIIj and VIIk and ICES sub-areas VIII, IX, X and XII east of 27° W in waters with a charted depth of more than 200 metres but less than 600 metres should only be allowed under certain conditions that provide protection for biologically sensitive deep-sea species.
Monkfish are subject to significant fishing mortality before attaining full maturity, and the majority of the anglerfish catch consists of young fish. Research surveys have shown an apparent increase in smaller fish on fishing grounds. Unreported landings in some fisheries in this area are thought to be substantial and there are indications that discarding has increased in recent years – this will be controlled through the reformed CFP and discard ban.
Monk are caught using tangle nets, trammel nets, demersal trawls and beam trawls.
Seafish Responsible sourcing guides, Monk Version 7.1. Oct 2013
Project Inshore pre assessment database
Seafish Ecological Risk assessment for fisheries south West
EU Regulation 227/2013. Ban on netting in water deeper than 200m.
EU Regulation 2406/96 Common marketing standards.
EU Regulation 1954/2003 Restricting effort in biologically sensitive area.
Cefas 2013,Fisheries Science Partnership Programme 25
Western Anglerfish 2003–2012 Readdy.L. Ashworth. J. & Lane. E. Lowestoft.
Seafish Risk Assessment for Sourcing Seafood http://www.seafish.org/rass
Cheung, W.W.L., T.J. Pitcher and D. Pauly, 2005. A fuzzy logic expert system to estimate intrinsic extinction vulnerabilities of marine fishes to fishing. Biol. Conserv. 124:97-111
IUCN red list, http://www.iucnredlist.org/
Swarbrick.j. 1991 An investigation of the performance of tangle nets used of the North Coast of Cornwall, Seafish industry Authority report 391
ICES J. Mar. Sci. (2008) 65 (7): 1272-1280.