Is Monkfish Sustainable? (& Why You May Change Your Diet)


monkfish sustainable

Many people enjoy a good fish dinner.

Whether you are ordering salmon at your favorite upscale restaurant or grilling beer-battered fish at a backyard cookout, fish can be delicious and healthy.

However, the benefits of fish vary by type.

If your next meal might include monkfish, you should probably educate yourself about this fish.

To help you decide if monkfish should be on the menu, we will look at the following topics:

  • Overivew
  • Safety
  • Cost
  • Environmental concerns
  • Sustainability

What Is Monkfish?

If you have not heard of monkfish before, do not feel uninformed. Monkfish are not the most common fish to end up on your plate. This is because monkfish live on the seabed in deep waters.

You will find monkfish in the North Atlantic most of the time, but they can also be caught in the Mediterranean Sea.

These unique fish have thoroughly adapted to their environment. Instead of swimming like most fish, monkfish cruise along the bottom of the sea with their fins.

Given how deep monkfish live, they cannot afford to be picky eaters. Monkfish are known to eat anything in their proximity. Their appetites are fierce.

If you ever see a monkfish, you will probably be happy that they prefer to live in the depths. These fish are not known to be particularly striking.

They have small eyes and excessive fangs. With a large head and wide mouth, they look like they belong in dark waters.

Even more peculiar, only the tail of the monkfish is edible. When prepared, a monkfish will produce two fillets. These fillets are thick and may weigh up to four pounds.

There are some examples worldwide of monkfish meat from the cheeks of the fish, but this is far less common.

In general, monkfish meat is tender and mild. Therefore, while monkfish may not look very attractive, it can be quite tasty when prepared properly.

Is It Safe to Eat Monkfish?

Monkfish has been a staple in some European diets, but it has only recently found a market in the United States.

Despite its growing popularity and worldwide acceptance, most people are still unfamiliar with its pros and cons.

The good news is that monkfish is a very lean fish.

The bad news is that it may be dangerous to your health.

This is not a problem unique to monkfish. Many types of fish are prone to collecting too many toxins. Therefore, while the meat is lean and full of nutrients, toxins from the fish may end up in your body.

In 2007, the FDA came out against eating monkfish in the United States. The problem was not with monkfish but rather with what is labeled as monkfish.

The agency discovered that many consumers were buying packages that said monkfish, but the contents were actually pufferfish.

Fish mislabeling is a documented problem across the industry. However, in this case, the mislabeled fish led to serious complications. Pufferfish contain high levels of tetrodotoxin.

This warning came after two people were hospitalized after consuming the mislabeled monkfish.

Monkfish Contains Mercury

While monkfish does not naturally have tetrodotoxin, it can be associated with mercury.

Outside of this issue of mislabeling, monkfish is generally considered an acceptable fish to eat. Today, the FDA classifies monkfish as a good choice that you can eat once a week.

This means that its mercury levels are safer than fish like marlin or tuna. However, monkfish is not quite as benign as tilapia, clams, trout and more.

These guidelines are designed to help people safely manage their mercury levels while still enjoying the health benefits of fish.

Other research has also documented mercury levels in monkfish. One study looked at monkfish caught off Namibia. The current levels did not appear to be a risk for humans.

There are still a few caveats. First, the amount of mercury found in the fish tended to increase with age. This means that monkfish likely accumulate more mercury in their systems as they get older.

Given that monkfish can live more than a decade, such accumulation may be significant.

Another interesting fact was that the amount of mercury varies somewhat depending on where the fish was caught. In this sense, there could be hotspots for mercury concentration.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to predict where these hotspots are, which can make it impossible to know whether or not the monkfish on your plate is dangerous.

Still, the overall conclusion is promising. Monkfish is currently safe in moderation.

As pollution increases and ocean climates change, the safety of monkfish and other underwater creatures could vary.

After looking at the facts, it is clear that monkfish can be safe. The key is to buy your monkfish from reliable suppliers and manage long-term environmental issues.

Why Is Monkfish Expensive?

The question of safety is of the utmost importance. However, it would be naive to think that safety and health are the only concerns for most people. People need to have access to food that they can afford.

Therefore, we must also look at monkfish from a consumerism standpoint.

Unfortunately, monkfish is not a cheap part of your diet. The going rate from some American monkfish sellers is 7 dollars per pound.

The irony is that this price increase is relatively recent. Before monkfish became trendy, it was a rejected fish. Before 1980, monkfish was typically thrown back and not hauled in as part of the catch.

This largely had to do with the appearance of the fish. Monkfish look pretty gnarly. In France, you will not find monkfish sold with their heads still attached. This practice was adopted to avoid scaring customers.

This cost is not without justification. If anything, it goes back to the basic principle of supply and demand. When monkfish was thrown back, there was ample supply and limited demand. Today, as people search for high-quality monkfish, demand is spiking.

This allows sellers to charge more. People will happily pay the prices. Monkfish is lean and healthy. It is also quite tasty.

In fact, monkfish is commonly compared to lobster. Given the similar taste and texture, some people call monkfish the poor man’s lobster.

The moniker is telling, but it is only part of the story. The simple truth is that monkfish is still relatively expensive. You will have to make room in your budget for this kind of indulgence.

Why Is Eating Fish Bad for the Environment?

Just because we can eat fish, does that mean we should?

This issue goes beyond our health. Fishing has a documented impact on the environment.

According to experts, the commercial fishing industry is a huge threat to oceans. Many fishing companies employ methods of overfishing.

Worse, their tactics are often destructive to the marine environment. While trying to catch fish like monkfish along the seabed, fishermen can use bottom trawling techniques. While these techniques do bring in more fish, they also harm delicate marine ecosystems.

Even fish farms, which produce fish in controlled settings, have been shown to be problematic. These farms use more energy than their livestock counterparts on solid ground. Some fish farms release dangerous levels of greenhouse gases.

This issue is largely linked to large-scale fishing operations. For example, in the United Kingdom, nearly 30 percent of the country’s fish production came from just five sources.

To produce this much fish, large boats must be used and questionable tactics are employed. These problems persist due to the lack of regulation and enforcement.

In theory, fishing can be done safely, but most fishermen are not motivated to do so. This is why some people have sworn off fish entirely for the environmental cause.

Is Any Fish Sustainable?

These concerns are valid. When thinking about them, you may make the choice to stop eating fish as well.

However, if you crave seafood, then you need to look into the most sustainable options.

Some people argue that no fish can be sustainable. Such a position looks at dire forecasts that suggest fish supplies will be depleted by 2048.

However, some options are more sustainable than others. In most cases, you have to look at the methods used to catch the fish.

For example, hook-and-line fishing is often less problematic than net fishing. Net fishing quickly leads to overfishing and can negatively impact other species and plant life in the area.

Another example is spearfishing. When using a spear, fishermen only target one fish at a time. This effectively limits the wider environmental impact.

Other ways to make fishing more sustainable include reel fishing over long lines and seasonal fishing.

Some fishermen have standards that prevent them from taking fish that are too young in order to help populations stabilize.

In some cases, fish may come from fisheries. These fisheries are essentially like water farms. They operate with strict regulations.

Fisheries enforce regulations specific to each type of fish, and there has been some success.

In particular, the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission has been very good at regulating salmon catches. Because of this, salmon is becoming more sustainable.

While improvements have been made, there is still much work to be done.

Some people may still abstain from fish on ethical grounds, but there are sustainable measures that can be taken for your next fish dinner.

Is Monkfish Sustainable?

Compared to many other types of fish, monkfish does appear to be more sustainable. It has a positive rating from NOAA, which assesses all seafood supplies.

First, monkfish populations are stable. Natural populations are above target levels.

Second, overfishing is not currently a problem for monkfish. This is partly because monkfish is not pursued recreationally.

All known monkfish procurement is exclusively for human consumption, which can limit potential population damage.

Finally, monkfish is caught with trawl gear or gillnets, and it is regulated to minimize bycatch and habitat destruction. These regulations are regional. Therefore, consumers have to pay attention to where their monkfish has been sourced.

These official distinctions are worth noting, but so are outside environmental opinions. Environmentalists are concerned about trawling methods used to catch monkfish.

Even when done with regulations, this practice can be quite destructive to the marine ecosystem.

Ultimately, it is a question of personal standards. While there are questions about the methods used to catch monkfish, the population data is stable and positive.

Which Fish Is Most Sustainable?

As you consider your fish choices, you may find yourself overwhelmed. That is why various support systems have been put in place to help you pick sustainable fish.

Seafood Watch is organized by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can enter a fish name, and you will receive a report on that species. The report will include an overview of the fish and whether or not it is a good choice.

Another option is the EDF Seafood Selector. Again, you can search for specific types of fish. This rating system breaks down different elements of the fish, giving you information about its sustainability and health factors.

If you are looking for more general advice, then there are a few accepted go-to fish for sustainability. One is sardines. Sardine populations have rebounded nicely, and they are easy to catch with little disturbance to other oceanic populations.

Oysters, clams and mussels are also great sustainable seafood options. These organisms can easily and safely be farmed. Up to 95 percent of oysters come from farms, which bodes well for overall population stability.

You may also consider arctic char, Alaskan salmon, sablefish and more. Just always be sure to check the source and fishing method to be confident that it was procured sustainably.


If you are craving seafood, there are certainly worse options than monkfish. Overall, monkfish is healthy and safe.

In contrast to other fish populations, its sustainability is comparatively good.

However, you will have to consider whether or not you feel comfortable eating seafood given the overarching problems associated with the commercial fishing industry worldwide.

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