MCS Removes Northern Monk from “Fish to Avoid” List

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has taken monkfish from northern stocks off its “Fish to Avoid” list following a recent meeting with a scientist and representatives of the Scottish whitefish fishing industry to discuss the sustainability of this fishery. The list is available online at, the website published by MCS to help consumers identify the most sustainable seafood available.

MCS had previously listed monkfish from the northern stock (which includes monkfish fished in Scottish waters) as “Fish to Avoid” due to a number of concerns for the sustainability of the fishery. These included the low resilience of monkfish to fishing, high catches of immature female fish and a high degree of uncertainty surrounding the state of the stock.

However, despite the lack of scientific data available to ICES to assess the fishery in terms of precautionary reference points, the fishery is now considered by many to be healthy and the stock is reported as not currently in decline. It should be noted that this does not lead MCS to place monkfish in its “Fish to Eat” list, as some unresolved concerns remain over the fishery.

Scientific evidence recently compiled by Dr Chevonne Laurenson from the NAFC Marine Centre suggests there has been a significant increase in abundance over the last 5 years and there are no biological indicators to suggest that monkfish is being exploited at unsustainable levels. “There has been widespread recruitment into the fishery since 2001 and all evidence indicates that the stock is continuing to increase in abundance at the present time” says Dr Laurenson.

Bernadette Clarke, MCS Fisheries Officer says ” MCS very much welcomed the opportunity to discuss our concerns for this and other European monkfish fisheries with industry leaders and for the opportunity to be provided with more detailed scientific and management information to allow us to reconsider the sustainability of this specific fishery. As a result MCS has re-evaluated it’s rating of the fishery and removed it from the MCS “Fish to Avoid” list”.

Recent fishery management improvements have provided both incidental and direct benefits to the monkfish fishery such as:

  • Decommissioning – much of the Scottish fleet has also been decommissioned and fishing effort is now significantly lower than in the 1990s when fishing pressure on monkfish was generally regarded as at unsustainable levels (out of a total of 298 demersal trawlers active in Area IVa in 2001 96 (32%) were decommissioned by the end of 2004).

  • Recent restrictions on fishing effort and Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for other deepwater species such as orange roughy, blue ling and deepwater sharks with an aim to phase out these fisheries by 2010/2011 has also resulted in reduced fishing effort on monkfish in deeper waters

  • Introduction of closures in deepwater fisheries specifically on the Rockall, Hatton Banks and Darwin Mounds for the protection of cold water corals

  • Cod recovery zone – the introduction of a closed area to aid the recovery of cod to the North West of Scotland, may also be providing protection for spawning monkfish

Mike Park, Executive Chairman of the Scottish Whitefish Producers Association says, “The Scottish fishing industry has made tremendous sacrifices to aid both the recovery of cod stocks and to protect our other main commercial species such as monkfish. We are proud of our industry science partnerships and our commitment to the environment in general through our collaboration with environmental organisations. The removal of monkfish from the MCS “Fish to Avoid” list is acknowledgement of those, and other measures we have deployed to protect the environment. Our meeting with MCS was very positive and we now view it as our responsibility to meet with them on a regular basis so that we may keep them informed and up-to-date”.

Director of the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation, Andrew Charles, added “SSPF very much welcome MCS decision to remove Scottish monk fish from their “Fish to Avoid” list. It is very clear this decision is based on excellent data that has been made available by Dr Laurenson and the growing working relationship between the Scottish fishermen and conservation groups. The importance of our customers having the confidence to buy quality Scottish fish that is caught in well managed and sustainable fisheries is paramount to the long term success of our industry”.

Whilst fishing is predominantly on juveniles in shelf or shallow seas the larger females are known to inhabit deeper waters where spawning is assumed to occur. Although there are concerns for the expansion of the fishery into areas once providing refuge for the stock, very few mature females are caught.

In order to increase the sustainability of the fishery MCS would like to see measures introduced to protect immature fish, especially inmmature females in trawl fisheries, such as rigid selection grids and the identification and protection of spawning areas coupled with further limits on the fishery in deeper waters off the west coast of Scotland. However the introduction of closures and reduction of TACs for deepwater species referred to earlier will likely contribute to the protection of the spawning stock.

A feedback form is available at the fishonline website to facilitate exchange of information and MCS is particularly keen to receive relevant scientific information and information on responsible practices to promote to the consumer. By raising consumer awareness of the issues related to producing fish MCS aims to protect fish stocks, livelihoods and marine life and promote sustainable management of both wild and farmed fish.

A copy of the MCS policy statement on monkfish is available on request. The methods used to rate fish against sustainability criteria, and list some as “fish to eat” and “fish to avoid”, are also described and available at