BOO! Happy Halloween from this spooky species, the Monkfish

 

Lophius_americanus_museum_of_nature
Photo courtesy Mike Beauregard via Wikimedia Commons

In honor of Halloween, we’ve decided to highlight one of the more creepy looking fish that can be found in the waters off of New England. The monkfish (Lophius americanus), also known as goose-fish, anglerfish, and sea-devil, is considered a delicacy abroad, but until recently has been overlooked in America, perhaps due to its obtrusive appearance.

The monkfish is highly recognizable, with its brown, tadpole-shaped body, and its gaping, fang-filled mouth. These eerie-looking fish can be found from Newfoundland to Georges Bank, and all the way down to North Carolina. They prefer to dwell on the sandy or muddy ocean-floor, where they feed on a variety of small lobsters, fish, and eels. Monkfish are typically found at depths of 230-330 feet, but have been caught in waters as deep as 2,700 feet; they have also been known to occasionally rise to the surface and consume small, unsuspecting birds. Females can grow up to forty inches and males up to thirty-five inches, and both can weigh up to seventy pounds. The average market size fish is around seventeen to twenty inches long.

Before the 1960s, monkfish were considered to be undesirable bycatch. However, in the wake of the collapse of the New England Atlantic Cod fishery, the monkfish has slowly started to become a more common alternative, in part due to awareness campaigns about “underutilized species” in New England. Now, monkfish is caught to supply both international and domestic demand – the tail is prized for its firm texture and sweet taste, perfect for baking and poaching, and the liver is used in Japanese sushi.

In fact, in the last two decades, fishing has increased so dramatically that monkfish stocks started to decline. Landings peaked in 1997 at sixty million pounds. However, thanks to the quick action of both the United States and Canada, a management plan was put in place and the stock population started to increase and stabilize. Landings now average around thirty-five million pounds annually. Monkfish are caught using trawls, gillnets, and dredges. The fishery is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the New England Regional Fishery Management Council, and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. These organizations do not impose annual catch limits, but do limit daily catches as well as limit access to the fishery. Nevertheless, the catch is still exceeding target catch levels in certain locations.

Current threats to monkfish are common among New England marine species: warming temperatures, ocean acidification, and habitat loss.

NOAA Fishwatch considers monkfish to be well managed and a “smart seafood choice” – however, it is still vulnerable, and the fishery should continue to be closely monitored, or it could suffer the same fate as other groundfish fisheries.

So, if you are looking for a spooky-themed seafood dish for this weekend’s festivities, it might be time to give monkfish a try… It would also make one unique Halloween costume!

Celebrating New England Lobsters on National Lobster Day

Cashes Ledge Lobster
A lobster at Cashes Ledge. Photo courtesy Brett Seymour/CLF

If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that New Englanders love lobster. It’s weaved into our culture and history, and it’s unimaginable to think of New England without this famed summer seafood.

Few know that lobsters were once so plentiful in New England that Native Americans used them as fertilizer for their fields, and as bait for fishing. And before trapping was common, “catching” a lobster meant picking one up along the shoreline!

During World War II, lobster was viewed as a delicacy, so it wasn’t rationed like other food sources. Lobster meat filled a demand for protein-rich sources, and continued to increase in popularity in post-war years, which encouraged more people to join the industry.

Popular ever since, now when most people are asked what comes to mind when they think of New England, seafood – especially lobster – is typically at the top of the list.

An industry under threat

We love our New England lobster, but there’s evidence suggesting they’re in danger of moving away from their longtime home. That’s because lobster is under threat from climate change, the effects of which can already be seen on this particular species.

The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of ocean areas. Until last winter’s uncharacteristically cold temperatures, the prior few years saw an increase in catchable lobster – as the warmer temperatures cause them to molt early, and they move toward inshore waters after molting. However, continued warming will ultimately encourage the lobsters to move north to find colder waters, where they spend the majority of their time.

This is already happening in southern New England, where the industry is already suffering, seeing lobsters migrating northward.

And we’re still learning about the potential for damage caused by ocean acidification, as well as how lobsters may be affected by an increase in colder than usual New England winters.

As we celebrate one of New England’s iconic species on National Lobster Day, let’s remember that slowing down climate change is an important priority for ensuring that future generations can enjoy not Canadian or Icelandic lobster, but New England lobster. Click here to support Conservation Law Foundation’s efforts on fighting climate change.

Seafood Expo, a Free Sample Feeding Frenzy

Yesterday I got out of the office to spend the afternoon at the Seafood Expo of North America (formerly the International Boston Seafood Show). Having never been to an expo of any kind I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I never expected anything so huge! More than 1,100 exhibitors gathered at the expo to show off their products ranging from fresh seafood and aquaculture to the latest seafood processing technologies to food safety services. Some vendors were even dressed up to promote their products; I saw at least one mermaid and one catfish suit.

It was certainly an eye-opening experience to see firsthand the variety of products that are involved in seafood processing and not to mention the decisions that must be made! On top of choosing from a whole ocean of seafood, there’s the type of packaging, mechanized sorting methods, floor material for your processing plant – the list goes on and on. Left and right men and women dressed in suits were sitting in meetings trying to capture new business. I was even asked a couple times if I was in the seafood buying business, to which I would politely say no, grab a free sample, and move onto the next booth.

That’s right, free samples. For any seafood lover, it was like walking into a dream world. There was seafood of every variety from all different countries available to try: lobster mac & cheese, clam and calamari ceviche, seaweed salad, and smoked salmon (just to name a few). My favorite probably had to be the barbeque salmon sandwich.

In addition to all this excitement, NOAA made a big announcement at the expo on Sunday regarding illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Officials unveiled a 40-page plan that includes 15 new measures to curtail this global issue. Some of the measures include more detailed labeling on all seafood imports, improved tracing methods, and a crack down on pirate fishermen. NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said, “Illegal fishing and seafood fraud undermine economic and environmental sustainability of fisheries and fish stocks in the US and around the world. These actions aim to level the playing field for legitimate fishermen, increase consumer confidence in the sustainability of seafood sold in the US, and ensure the vitality of marine fish stocks.” You can read more about the plan here.

If you missed the expo this time around, it will be back again next year. And even if you are not in the seafood industry, it’s certainly worth checking out.

 

Image via www.seafoodexpo.com