Monkfish

Monkfish
Lophius americanus
(A.K.A. - Goosefish, Anglerfish)


Key Distinguishing Markings:

  • The species is easily recognized because of its large spiny head and wide mouth filled with fang-like teeth.
  • Monkfish have very broad, depressed heads (head is as wide as the fish is long)
  • They have enormous mouths with long, sharp teeth.
  • Monkfish have a modified spine called an "esca."
  • This spine is quite mobile and can be angled forward so it can dangle in front of the fish's mouth and be wiggled like bait to lure its prey.

Size:

  • Monkfish grow rapidly with females reaching approximately 39 inches and living to 12 years of age.
  • Males have not been found older than age 9, and their total lengths reach approximately 35 inches.

Distribution:

  • Monkfish range from the Grand Banks and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence south to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
  • They are occasional visitors to the lower Chesapeake Bay from late fall to early spring.

Habitat:

  • Monkfish are marine bottom-dwelling fishes belonging to the family, Lophiidae.
  • Monkfish inhabit sand, mud, and broken shell bottoms from inshore areas to
    depths greater than 800 m (2,300 ft).

Food Preference:

  • Monkfish are voracious predators and feed on benthic fishes and other prey almost as big as themselves.

Spawning:

  • Monkfish reach maturity between ages 3 and 4, and spawning can take place from spring through early fall depending on latitude.
  • Females lay a non-adhesive, buoyant gelatinous egg mass that floats as a broad raft on the water's surface.
  • Larvae and juveniles are pelagic and remain in this stage for several months before they settle to the bottom at a size of about 3 inches.

Fishing Tips:

  • Although the recreational fishery for monkfish is insignificant and not well documented for Atlantic coast states, both New York and Massachusetts have size limits on recreational catches of monkfish.
  • In the Atlantic Ocean off Maryland, monkfish are found in waters from 3 to 200 miles offshore, thus making them outside the jurisdictional limits of the state.  However, to meet the need of conservation, a regulation was enacted stating: An individual may not catch or land monkfish (Lophius americanus) for commercial purposes when the Regional Administrator for National Marine Fisheries Service determines that the quota has been  attained and closes the fishery as permitted in accordance with 50 CFR 648."
  • They are sometimes caught by recreational fishermen when fishing for other bottom fish species like sea bass.

Fun Fact:

  • Monkfish have been reported to eat prey nearly one-half their size, as well as capture waterbirds at the surface.
  • Monkfish are sometimes known as "allmouth" since the fish is mostly head and the head is mostly mouth.
  • Their livers are prized for food value and are harvested from the fish and sold when caught commercially. The meat is firm and similar in texture to lobster tail so they are often called poor man's lobster, and are an essential ingredient in French cooking of fish broth.

Family: Lophiidae

Order: Lophiiformes

Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)

For more information on monkfish their management, please contact Steve Doctor.

Illustration courtesy of NOAA


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