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Monkfish (or headfish) is the English name of a number of types of fish in the northwest Atlantic, most notably the species of the anglerfish genus Lophius and the angelshark genus Squatina. The term is also occasionally used for a European sea monster more often called a sea monk.
Monkfish is the most common English name for the genus Lophius in the northeast Atlantic but goosefish is used as the equivalent term on the eastern coast of North America. Lophius has three long filaments sprouting from the middle of the head; these are the detached and modified three first spines of the anterior dorsal fin. As in most anglerfish species, the longest filament is the first (illicium), which terminates in an irregular growth of flesh, the esca. This modified fin ray is movable in all directions. This esca is used as a lure to attract other fishes, which monkfish then typically swallow whole. Experiments have shown that whether the prey has been attracted to the lure or not is not strictly relevant, as the action of the jaws is an automatic reflex triggered by contact with the esca.
It grows to a length of more than 1.5 m (5 ft); specimens of 1 m (3 ft) are common. The largest recorded specimen weighed 115 kg (253 lb) and was caught on January 7, 2012, by Frank-Rune Kopperud of Norway. The previous record holder was a specimen of 99.4 kg (219 lb).
Two species, Lophius piscatorius and Lophius budegassa, are found in north-western Europe and referred to as monkfish, with L. piscatorius by far the most common species around the British Isles and of major fishery interest. Under UK Labelling Regulations, the phrase "monkfish" is only permitted for Lophiodes caulinaris, Lophius americanus, Lophius budegassa and Lophius piscatorius.
In Europe and North America, the texture of the tail meat of fish of the genus Lophius, is sometimes compared to lobster tail and has been alluded to as the "poor man's lobster," although today it commands prices equivalent to, and in some cases exceeding, lobster and other marine delicacies. According to Seafood Watch, monkfish consumption raises sustainability concerns due to past overfishing and damage to the seafloor habitat resulting from the use of trawlers and gillnets to catch this fish.
A second group of fish also known as monkfish are members of the genus Squatina, in the angel shark family Squatinidae. These are of somewhat similar shape to the anglerfish, but completely unrelated as they are elasmobranchs. These fish are only of minor significance for human consumption, though they are endangered because they are caught as bycatch by trawlers.
Monkfish is commonly eaten in all of Portugal and the northern and southern coastal regions of Spain, such as Catalonia, Valencia and Galicia.
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