The monkfish, aka the goosefish or anglerfish, are distinguished by their large spiny heads and wide mouthes filled with fang-like teeth. They have broad, depressed heads that are as wide as the fish are long, and enormous mouths with long, sharp teeth. Monkfish are sometimes known as "allmouth" since the fish is mostly head and the head is mostly mouth!
Monkfish have a flexible, modified spine called an “esca” that can be angled forward so it can dangle in front of the fish’s mouth and be wiggled like bait to lure its prey. Not intimidated easily by size, they feed on benthic fishes and other prey almost as big as themselves, and have been known to catch water birds on the surface!
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, or free swimming species, and remain in this stage for several months before they settle to the bottom at a size of about 3 inches. Monkfish females grow no larger than 39 inches long, while males grow to 35 inches long.
They are bottom-dwelling fish, preferring to live in sand, mud and broken shell bottoms in shallow inshore areas to depths greater than 2,300 feet. Monkfish are occasional visitors to the lower Chesapeake Bay from late fall to early spring, and range from the Grand Banks and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence all the way down to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
Illustration of Monkfish courtesy of NOAA
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