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Monkfish

Monkfish

Monkfish Lophius piscatorius ; Linnaeus, 1758. Family: Lophiidae

Distribution

There are two species of monkfish (anglerfish) in Scottish waters but the black-bellied monkfish,
Lophius budegassa Spinola, 1807 is much less common than the 'white' monkfish L. piscatorius (shown above). Monkfish occur in a very wide range of depths, extending from very shallow inshore waters down to at least 1,100 metres. Small monkfish can be caught over most of the northern North Sea and west coast grounds, down to about 150 metres. Larger, mature, fish used to be found at all depths, including inshore waters, but are now scarce in water shallower than 100-150 metres. Although monkfish probably spend most of their adult lives on or close to the seabed they are occasionally caught near the surface.

Life History

Monkfish can grow up to 200 cm but individuals bigger than 120 cm are extremely rare. A one year old angler is around 20 cm and reaches around 70 cm by the age of six. Spawning takes place mainly during the first six months of the year, mostly in relatively deep water (150-1,000 metres). Although monkfish have a long spawning season, each female probably produces only one batch of eggs, unlike cod, haddock and whiting, which spawn many times during a single spawning season. Female monkfish only begin to reach maturity around the age of seven years. The majority of females do not spawn until they are even older and are therefore likely to be caught long before they reach full maturity.

Monkfish have very unusual spawning habits. The eggs are released in a huge ribbon of jelly that floats to the surface and drifts with the currents. A single egg ribbon can be more than 10 metres long and can contain well over one million eggs. After hatching, the young monkfish spend three or four months in mid water, before settling on the bottom at a size of 5-12 cm. During their time in mid-water the young fish may drift a very long way from the spawning grounds.

Diet

Monkfish are opportunistic feeders whose diet consists mainly of fish, although shellfish and even seabirds are sometimes found in their stomachs. They lie quietly and perfectly camouflaged on the seabed and attract prey to within range of their enormous mouths by twitching a 'fishing rod' or lure that extends from the top of the head, in front of the eyes.