Southern New England | Mid-Atlantic — Monkfish
Fish harvesters drag a large cone-shaped net along the seafloor to catch groundfish such as monkfish, pollock, cod and flounder. The net is sunk and held open by two “otter boards” that look like large, heavy steel or wooden doors. As the net is towed at low speed, hydrodynamic forces push the boards outwards opening the mouth of the net and capturing fish in its path. The net is then hauled to the surface using hydraulic winches and a drum. A single tow can net thousands of fish along with incidental catch.
Also known as “dragging,” bottom trawling uses a large net made of polyethylene to catch fish. Steel or wooden doors spread the net open. Floats are attached to the upper mouth of the net to keep it open vertically and weighted “bobbins” are attached to the lower mouth to sink the net. The bobbins’ design depends on the terrain, varying from small rubber discs for smooth sandy seafloors to large metal balls for rough ground. Known as “rock hoppers,” bobbins lift the net over obstacles on the seafloor.
In New England, many different species are caught in bottom trawls. These include Atlantic cod, haddock, pollock, yellowtail flounder, witch flounder, winter flounder, windowpane flounder, American plaice, Atlantic halibut, redfish, ocean pout and white hake. Most trawlers are federally permitted to catch multiple groundfish species. Some trawlers also have state permits to catch allocations in state waters.
Bottom trawls disturb habitat when dragged along the seabed, and impacts vary by sediment type and the trawl gear used. Undersized and unwanted species (bycatch) are also unintentionally caught.
The monkfish trawl fishery is managed mainly through federal regulations, but also through state regulations as well. There are eight categories of monkfish permits. A number of federal and state measures address conservation in this fishery, including:
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This fishery is managed jointly by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the New England Fishery Management Council. Visit NOAA’s Fisheries Service for the most recent management plan. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management also manages about three percent of the total allowable catch of monkfish in state waters.
Monkfish caught by bottom trawls are hauled aboard and stored in ice or a mixture of ice and seawater. Fish are typically headed and dressed aboard the vessel. A group of trawlers operate as day-boats out of Point Judith, Rhode Island, although vessels can stay at sea for about a week. Properly handled and chilled on ice, fresh monkfish has a shelf life of 4 to 5 days.
Monkfish are managed as part of the Southern Fishery Management Area extending from the southern flank of Georges Bank through the Mid-Atlantic Bight to North Carolina. Rhode Island State waters are considered part of the Southern Fishery Management Area.