Ugly fish can save industry

AP
Monkfish have been commercially fished for years, but recent analyses by the federal government show the monster-like bottom dweller can withstand more fishing pressure.
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Monkfish with mushroom, root vegetables, lardons, red wine emulsion

Eat more ugly delicacies. That’s the message from members of the fishing industry, environmentalists and regulators who are trying to persuade US consumers to eat more of a particularly weird-looking creature from the deep — monkfish.

Monkfish have been commercially fished for years, but recent analyses by the federal government show the monster-like bottom dweller can withstand more fishing pressure. However, US fishermen often fall short of their quota for the fish.

A lack of reliable markets for the fish and convoluted fishing regulations make it difficult to catch the full quota, fishermen said. Nevertheless, the US government is upping harvesters’ limits for monkfish for the next three years. 

Some New England fishermen switched to targeting monkfish in recent decades when traditional species such as cod began to decline, said Jan Margeson, a fisherman from Chatham, Massachusetts. 

Monkfish, also known as goosefish, are predatory fish that camouflage themselves on the ocean bottom and can grow to be about 5 feet (1.52 meters) long. With a gaping maw and uneven, jagged teeth, its appearance is the stuff of nightmares.

But proponents often say the taste and texture of its flesh is similar to lobster. And monkfish, which is often sold as a whole fish or as steaks of tail meat, frequently is more affordable than some other kinds of domestic seafood.

Fishermen were allowed to catch 32.5 million pounds (14.74 million kg) of monkfish each year from 2013 to 2015, but typically caught less than two thirds of that amount. The federal government increased that limit to about 33.8 million pounds for the 2017-18 fishing year, and that number will hold until 2020.

The Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector and Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch both give the fishery positive reviews for sustainability. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also touts the fishery as a “smart seafood choice” that is “sustainably managed” according to federal guidelines, the agency says on its website.

Right now is a good time for fishermen to start exploiting that reputation, said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.


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