Monkfish is the common name of a number of different species of fish.
Most of the fish referred to as monkfish belong to the genus Lophius, in the goosefish family Lophiidae. They are also known as anglerfish, and this name is more often used scientifically, monkfish being the preferred name when the fish is used as food.
A second group of fish known as monkfish are members of the genus Squatina, in the angel shark family Squatinidae. These are of somewhat similar shape to the anglerfish, but completely unrelated; like the true sharks, they are elasmobranchs. These fish are only of minor significance for human consumption, though they are endangered because they are caught as bycatch by trawlers.
The present article deals with the monkfish in genus Lophius. The species caught in North American waters is usually Lophius americanus; that caught in Europe is Lophius piscatorius. The culinary use of the two species is similar. Their appearance is unusual as they are "mostly head", and they are known for their large mouths and relatively ugly appearance. However, the tail meat is widely used in cooking, is often compared to lobster tail in taste and texture. It is therefore sometimes referred to as "poor man's lobster." It is mostly found in the coastal Atlantic areas.
The Angler fish, also sometimes called fishing-frog, frog-fish, sea-devil is well known off the coasts of Great Britain and Europe generally, the grotesque shape of its body and its singular habits having attracted the attention of naturalists of all ages. To the North Sea fishermen this fish is known as the "monk," a name which more properly belongs to Rhina squatina, a fish allied to the skates. Its head is of enormous size, broad, flat and depressed, the remainder of the body appearing merely like an appendage. The wide mouth extends all round the anterior circumference of the head; and both jaws are armed with bands of long pointed teeth, which are inclined inwards, and can be depressed so as to offer no impediment to an object gliding towards the stomach, but to prevent its escape from the mouth. The pectoral and ventral fins are so articulated as to perform the functions of feet, the fish being enabled to move, or rather to walk, on the bottom of the sea, where it generally hides itself in the sand or amongst sea-weed. All round its head and also along the body the skin bears fringed appendages resembling short fronds of sea-weed, a structure which, combined with the extraordinary faculty of assimilating the colour of the body to its surroundings, assists this fish greatly in concealing itself in places which it selects on account of the abundance of prey.
It has three long filaments inserted along the middle of the head, which are, in fact, the detached and modified three first spines of the anterior dorsal fin. The filament most important in the economy of the angler is the first, which is the longest, terminates in a lappet, and is movable in every direction. The angler is believed to attract other fishes by means of its lure, and then to seize them with its enormous jaws. It is probable enough that smaller fishes are attracted in this way, but experiments have shown that the action of the jaws is automatic and depends on contact of the prey with the tentacle. Its stomach is distensible in an extraordinary degree, and not rarely fishes have been taken out quite as large and heavy as their destroyer. It grows to a length of more than 5 ft.; specimens of 3 ft. are common. The spawn of the angler is very remarkable. It consists of a thin sheet of transparent gelatinous material 2 or 3 ft. broad and 25 to 30 ft. in length. The eggs in this sheet are in a single layer, each in its own little cavity. The spawn is free in the sea. The larvae are free-swimming and have the pelvic fins elongated into filaments. The British species is found all round the coasts of Europe and western North America, but becomes scarce beyond 60° N. latitude; it occurs also on the coasts of the Cape of Good Hope. A second species (Lophius budegassa) inhabits the Mediterranean, and a third (L. setigerus) the coasts of China and Japan.
The term monkfish has also been used for a sea monster of the north-west Atlantic bearing a passing resemblance to a monk (also known as a sea monk).
- The Compleat Lophius (http://www.lophius.co.uk)
- Monkfish facts, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
- NOAA Monkfish Research Program (http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/nefsc/READ/popdy/monkfish/)