Marine Species: Monkfish

The monkfish, also called the anglerfish, is one of the ocean’s most fearsome looking species. Here we’ll find out a bit about this enigmatic fish.

The monkfish, also known in various parts of the world as the anglerfish, is one of the ocean’s most fearsome looking species and also one of its most enigmatic. Monkfish live in the deeper reaches of the Atlantic, usually above depths of 3,300 feet (1000 m). Monkfish prefer colder waters and are opportunistic feeders predating on various species that can include shellfish, cod, pollock, lobster and crabs.

Where do they live?

Monkfish live in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, in areas such as the Grand Banks, Gulf of Lawrence also lives in deeper waters along the mid-Atlantic ridge, for example in the Azores. It also lives closer to the European continent off the coasts of Spain, Portugal, England and France.

What do they look like?

Monkfish have a distinctive appearance with their mottled dark brown to olive skin tone and white underside. In addition, they have a large, relatively flat head, with a large mouth and spines along the top ridge of their body. One spine in particular is a distinctively modified ‘lure’ or ‘esca,’ which protrudes from their head much like the famous anglerfish of the deep. The fish utilize the lure when they want to ambush their prey, using it as bait for smaller fish that think the lure is in fact prey for them. Their repertoire of hunting capabilities also includes an extremely powerful bite. Once they capture prey, it rarely escapes their mighty grasp.

Monkfish have unusually strong dorsal and ventral fins, as well as two large limb-like pectoral fins that they can use to ‘walk’ or support themselves on the sandy bottoms where they feed.

Female monkfish grow larger and live longer than their male counterparts, reaching sizes of up to 5 feet (1.5 m) long and live as long as 13 years. Males grow to just over 4 feet (1 m) and can live to be about 7 years old.

Monkfish move to deeper water to breed, up to several hundred meters, according to researchers. During the summer in the northern hemisphere, monkfish larvae float to the mid-water column where the hatchlings will spend the first months of their lives. As they grow, they will descend to the bottom.

Threats to monkfish

Being a highly sought-after edible fish, the monkfish’s population is under extreme threat. Bottom trawling, perhaps the most destructive form of fishing due to its impact on the entire seafloor, is the chosen method used to catch the fish. During the early 2000s many stores banned monkfish from their counters