I shall not say about other Europeans, but Icelanders did not eat monkfish for the longest time.
There was only one reason for this.
Lophus piscatorius is ugly.
With its head covered with spiny bumps and a pair of antennae, along with the huge wide mouth filled with needle-sharp teeth, this bottom feeder was considered to come from the devil himself.
That’s how ugly it is.
Its English names tell a great deal. It is also known as anglerfish, fishing frog, lawyerfish, bellyfish and goosefish.
It can grow nearly two metres long and can weigh up to 20 kilograms, but the head alone is about half of its length.
When it accidentally arrived aboard boats alongside tasty and pretty cod and haddock, seamen used to cross themselves before throwing it overboard again.
But in the past century or so, Icelanders have discovered this very tasty fish — not only the culinary side of it, but also its habits.
Nowadays, Icelanders fish a few hundred tonnes of monkfish each year.
In fact, very little is known about it, and no one knows why its numbers have been steadily increasing in the North Atlantic in recent years.
Monkfish exist in the east of the Atlantic Ocean, close to Iceland, Murmansk and all the way south to the Guinea Bay.
However, it does not exist near Greenland or the East Coast of North-America.
It can live at a few metres depth down to at least 1,800 metres.
A recent article in the Icelandic newspaper Morgunbladid tells of a new international study of the monkfish in the North Atlantic, as well as along the shores of many European countries.
The research is the result of a three-year co-operative study, with work shared among Iceland, Norway, the Shetland Islands, and the Faeroe Islands.
Two types of monkfish exist in the North Atlantic, and the research covered both.
Interestingly, the fish’s DNA indicated that Icelandic and Norwegian monkfish are more closely related than other groups.
A large part of the study was designed to locate monkfish in specified areas, and document where the fisheries were.
The scientists discovered that monkfish remains more or less in much the same area all its life, with a few exceptions. A single fish can travel between countries.
A fish marked off the Faeroe Islands and another marked near the Shetlands were caught in the nets close to Iceland, and a third fish that had been marked by the Shetlands was caught near the Faeroe Islands.
However, this movement appears to be rather rare, said Einar Jónsson, fish specialist with the Icelandic Marine Research Institution, who participated in the study.
Fish near Iceland were also located by electronic devices that measure depth and temperature where the fish live.
Among other things, the scientists attempted to figure out how many fish die each year, and how many young manage to reach sexual maturity.
First results appear to show that too many monkfish are fished by Norway and the Faeroe Islands. The fishing is not regulated by these countries.
The scientists believe these two countries should reduce monkfish fishing by 50 to 60 per cent, so the stock has time to recuperate.
Another suggestion they have is to use larger nets, so the smaller monkfish can swim through.
This co-operation was the first of its kind when it comes to monkfish, and this is the first time anyone has tried to estimate how many monkfish there are in the North Atlantic.
Whether the fishing industry will listen and heed the scientists’ advice, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, should you come across monkfish at the Wharf on Fourth, here’s a great recipe:
Thread monkfish onto spears and sprinkle on a little olive oil, lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper.
Throw it on the barbecue for a few minutes, or until cooked through. You may also brush it in lime and garlic, wrap bacon around it and barbeque it.
Enjoy with fresh salad!