Species contact: Dr. Michael Armstrong
Scientific name: Lophius americanus
Common names: American angler, goosefish, monkfish
Size: Monkfish can grow to lengths of 2 to 4 feet and weighing roughly 50 pounds.
Color: Monkfish are a muddy brown color, mottled with lighter and darker brown speckles. The underside is pale brown to white.
Body: Monkfish are dorso-ventrally flattened, meaning their height is very small, but their width is large. They have a large, wide head, tapering to the caudal fin. The mouth faces upwards and is wide and large, the eyes are small and located on the top of the head and directed upwards. Monkfish lack visible operculae. There are 3 dorsal spines, the first of which has a leaf-like tip used to lure prey close to the mouth. The monkfish has 2 dorsal fins behind the spines: the first is small and spiny while the second is larger and soft-rayed. The pectoral fins are large while the pelvic fins are smaller and anterior to the pectoral fins. The caudal fin is square. All fins except the dorsal fins are thick and fleshy. Monkfish are scaleless and slippery to touch.
Mediterranean angler, Blackbellied angler
Prey: These angler fish are ambush opportunistic feeders. Larvae monkfish feed on zooplankton while juveniles eat small fish, shrimp, and squid. Adult monkfish may feed on other monkfish, but also eat crabs, lobsters, squid, octopus, and even seabirds.
Predators: Large monkfish have very few predators. Swordfish, sharks, and thorny skates are known to eat smaller monkfish.
Monkfish spawn February through October. Females release egg veils which can contain more than 1 million eggs. These veils float near the surface for 1 to 3 weeks when the veil dissolves and the eggs hatch. The newly hatched monkfish are zooplankton for several weeks until they grow large enough – roughly 3 inches long – to settle on the sea floor.
Monkfish have planktonic larvae which floats to the seafloor. They are known to inhabit muddy areas where they can partially bury themselves, prepping for ambush. These fish are found close to shore as well as offshore, in shallow waters and down to over 1,200 feet deep.
Monkfish are found in the western North Atlantic from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and the northern side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, south to North Carolina. They have also been seen of the coast of Barbados and in the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico.
There is a commercial fishery for monkfish in the United States. Mainly, these fish are harvested through gillnets and trawls.
While not many anglers target them, there is a fishery for monkfish in Massachusetts waters. Bottom jigging is the typical way in which these fish are caught.
Mainly harvested for their tail meat and liver. Asian markets look for the entire fish. The tail meat is firm, dense, and relatively boneless. The texture of the meat is similar to a lobster tail.
Keep in mind when preparing that raw monkfish is off-white to light gray. It is covered by a blue-gray membrane that should be removed before cooking. If not removed, the membrane will shrink around the meat, making it tough.