Marine Mindbenders: Mouthy Angler Fish

, 13 December 2011

Author Erin Pettifer

angler fish / Asbjorn Hansen

For my second Marine Mindbender, it’s the turn of the slightly fearsome looking angler fish.

The other day my colleague received a photo of a fish head from an interested member of public which caused her to exclaim ‘wow, what is that?!’… my interest was immediately piqued.

Looking at the photo I could see it was the very unusual looking angler fish, a bottom dwelling fish I’ve come across previously when surveying at sea. Dominated by its enormous flattened head (as wide as the fish is long!) and massive mouth filled with fang like teeth, it has always induced my healthy respect!

So, some interesting facts about this curious creature…

Why are they called ‘angler’ fish?

Angler fish get their name from their fishing lure at the tip of a specially modified dorsal ray, with which they can entice prey. The fish rests on the seabed, its brownish mottled pattern and small flaps of skin fringing the head and body providing excellent camouflage. Wiggling its lure above its cavernous upturned mouth it attracts prey to swim within reach… when close they can be rapidly engulfed in a single lunge, the angler fish’s inward curving teeth making escape impossible.

They are voracious predators and feed on bottom dwelling fishes and other prey almost as big as themselves. They have even been reported to leave the bottom and drag down seabirds from the surface!

What’s its gastronomic name?

Angler fish are often marketed as ‘monkfish’. Many fish are given different names when sold as food. In fact common names often cause widespread confusion as each species can have a range of different common names but, will always only have one scientific name. This is why these are so essential and always best to use.

In the case of angler fish this confusion is illustrated by the angelshark (Squatina squatina) also being known as monkfish and sold as a food item.

Two species of angler fish occur in British waters, Lophius piscatorius (white bellied) and Lophius budegassa (black-bellied), although catches are almost exclusively of the former.

Should I eat angler fish?

Long-lived and late to mature, angler fish are vulnerable to over-exploitation. The maximum reported age is 24 years. Females mature at 9-11 years at about 70-90cm, males at around 6 years at 50cm.

The majority of catch, particularly in trawl fisheries, comprise young fish which have not yet reached maturity. Juvenile fish are easily retained by the minimum mesh size in force and often discarded.

To increase the sustainability of fish eaten from this stock, choose fish which is net-caught, above the size at maturity (70cms) and from the Southwest stock or from Iceland, which are currently being fished sustainably.

If you’re interested, check out for more information on sustainable seafood.

angler / monkfish on ice / Matias Singers

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