Caught off the coast of New Zealand and Australia, golden snapper are harvested by small fishing vessels using longlines, out only for a day at a time, sometimes as little as six hours. Short trips ensure the best quality and ultimate freshness for these fish. Upon being brought aboard, they are killed instantly and painlessly with a quick spike through their brain, a simple process known as “iki-jime.” With this technique, the meat of the fillets is preserved because the muscles stop moving immediately, and the blood is drawn to the gut. This makes for a clean fillet that is preserved for a “just caught” taste when eaten raw or cooked. Packed in special boxes known as “iki-bins,” golden snapper are well preserved from start to finish, ensuring a high-quality fish every time. Golden snappers range in size from three to eight pounds, and many of them come from Lee Fisheries out of Leigh, New Zealand on the North Island. This tight-knit, industry-conscious community has perfected these processes over generations of skill and knowledge development.
The F/V Coral V, is one of the dayboat longliners that catch golden snapper off the coast of New Zealand. This boat fishes north of Auckland, generally from the Hauraki Gulf up through the warmer waters and rocky coastlines of Northland. This boat is owned by Dave Moore, a well-known fisherman from Leigh. As a strong industry advocate, Moore has a prominent voice in the regional economy and fisheries management. With a clear and focused outlook on future management of species like golden snapper, he has cultivated the ability to combine science and real industry experience from other fishermen to gain common ground and a substantial voice in fisheries management for the area. Down-to-earth, honest conversation that includes as many angles of the trade as possible combines to form a group of informed experts that can effectively manage and defend their livelihoods for future generations, or as Moore calls it, “100 year thinking."
Monday, February 16, Monteray Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program labeled marine-farmed Chinook Salmon from New Zealand a Best Choice for consumers. This is the first and only ocean-farmed salmon to be given a Best Choice, or Green, rating, which is the highest possible.
Pierless Fish is happy to announce that encompassed in this source is Ōra King Salmon, one of our products that is a premium, high-quality salmon raised by the New Zealand King Salmon Company in the south island’s Marlborough Sounds. The species of Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) accounts for only half a percent of the world’s salmon population, being one that truly is king – a larger size, a richer flavor, and a higher fat content than other salmon species. The caretakers of Ōra King selectively breed the salmon for these traits, but also color, nutritional content, and overall quality, hand-selecting it to be the best culinary product possible.
In the wild, five kilograms of whole fish are needed to produce one kilogram of salmon. On the contrary, the salmon produced by the New Zealand King Salmon Company yields 1.4 kilograms of salmon to every 1 kilogram of fish protein used in the fish’s diet, all of which comes from sustainable fisheries that are scientifically managed. With a promise of sustainability and a business model to support it, Ōra King is a net producer of marine protein.
Ōra King Salmon is raised free of any chemicals or antibiotics at a site managed with stringent biosecurity measures both on a local and national level – the Marlborough Sounds. After initial development in spring-fed hatcheries, the smolt are carefully transferred to marine net pens in the Sounds. Only 2% of the pen space is fish biomass – the remaining 98% is flowing water, which ensures their health, taste, and quality as they mature to adults.
Seafood Watch has acknowledged the precision and devotion to the quality of these fish – a truly sustainable, traceable, and premium product without any negative effects to the environment, such as disrupting wild salmon populations or polluting local water. Meticulously designed to be a premium, year-round product, Ōra King Salmon now has the support of a globally renowned recommendation as a choice consumers can feel confident about purchasing and eating – not only a choice that is conscious of health, but also of the environment.
Before the 1980's, fishermen using trawls and scallop dredges who brought up monkfish weren't sure what to make of them. The modest beginning of monkfish as a bycatch, or an unintentional harvest, in the United States in no way foretold its present-day success. Upon discovering a muscular tail, meaty cheek pockets, and an enormous liver, the American monkfish, Lophius americanus, slowly made its way onto domestic tables here in the United States, as well as international ones. By the 1990's, it was the highest valued finfish in the Northeastern US, a place it has upheld since then. Through its course of discovery, depletion, rebuilding, and now stability and study, here’s a glimpse of the industry, from where it starts, to where it ends.
WHAT IS A MONKFISH? As what seems to be an enormous set of jaws covered in brown and olive-speckled skin, the monkfish lurks on the ocean floor, camouflaging itself, at depths reaching up to 3,000 feet. It dangles a small, lure-like appendage on what is a delicately thin, extended spine hanging in front of the monk's head. This “fishing pole and lure” setup is a distinguishing physical trait of the biological order of "anglerfish" worldwide. Its inward-facing teeth are designed to trap prey after an enveloping gulp.
The term anglerfish also doubles as a common name for monkfish in both America and Europe, though European monkfish are a different species, Lophius piscatorius. Other common names include goosefish, frog-fish, or sea-devil, among even stranger ones. With jaws and a stomach capable of eating prey longer than they are, the enormous monkfish head tapers back to a tail that seems to be a second thought. Though they're mostly hoping for crustaceans, mollusks, fish, diving ducks, and birds - cannibalism does occur within the species.
The monkfish's popularity, of course, did not catch on because of its good looks. Long ago another nickname, "poor-man's lobster," started, since the tail fillets and meaty pockets from its cheeks resemble the taste and appearance of lobster when cooked – dense, and clean, opaque white. The tail is mostly sold skinned, also stripped of the translucent purple-blue membrane that surrounds it. Monkfish meat it so dense that it is easily cubed and grilled without falling apart, though it is commonly braised or broiled.
And what about that huge liver? Generally over half a foot long and weighing more than a pound, ankimo, as it is referred to in Japan, is a celebrated delicacy. It is generally steamed and sliced, topped with scallions, ponzu, daikon, and momiji-oroshi, a spicy red pepper sauce. Soy is rarely used since the taste of the liver is so delicate. Monkfish liver is also used in soups and has multiple applications in sushi as well. Culinary purposes such as these are practiced most notably in Japan, though also widely in Korea.
After their rise in the 1990’s, it became apparent that monkfish stocks in the Northeast were under exploitation, similar to the neighboring European species already depleted. Since the early 2000’s, however, the fishery has been highly successful in rebuilding then-declined monkfish populations in the US, now over target limits since 2008. Though monkfish as a fishery started as a bycatch itself (caught accidentally while fishing for something else), the actual term “bycatch” is generally something most professionals in the fishing industry want to avoid. What a lot of fishery legislation combats now is steering clear of vulnerable species enveloped by this term, including endangered species, populations under regrowth programs, and mammals. As the design of fishing gear becomes more and more specific to catching only one species, bycatch can be limited and fishermen can harvest just what they are targeting.
Little is known about anglers as a targeted species relating to their behavior, migration, and spawning patterns, making it difficult to design gear specific to them. Being primarily benthic, all anglers live in the deepest water on the ocean floor, making it difficult to find and study them.
In short – there’s plenty of monkfish, but how can we avoid catching all the other species that surround them?
Members of the monkfish industry collaborate with both the Cooperative Monkfish Research Program and the Monkfish Research Set-Aside Program (RSA). RSAs use no federal funding, but instead run on revenue generated from industry sales. This is made possible because of the collaboration and cooperation between industry fishing professionals and researchers – those studying species population, growth, movement, and so on. The New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils manage these allocations, along with guidance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some other fisheries using an RSA system include Atlantic sea scallops, herring, and black sea bass, among others.
Not only are these scientific research-programs necessary in order to understand current conditions in US waters, they are one of the most critical aspects of future management and understanding, both for monkfish and also unwanted bycatch in the same waters. With this collaborative engagement between fisheries science and business, healthy, balanced fish stocks will be around for many years, with fishing practices further evolving to exclude vulnerable bycatch species as much as possible.
FROM THE OCEAN TO PIERLESS
Most monkfish carried by Pierless Fish comes from Viking Village, a seafood producer located in Barnegat Light, New Jersey, the northern-most town on Long Beach Island. With a rich cultural history and multiple generations of deeply involved, experienced fishermen, monkfish are one of many of the high-quality species landed.
Captain Chris Rainone bought the Annice Marie, a forty-foot gillnet boat, in 2006, and has called Viking Village his home port since then. Typically throwing off the lines at around 2am, him and his small crew steam over fifty miles east off the coast of New Jersey for about four hours; quite the commute. Gear is hauled out and in for most of the day, about eight hours, gutting, cleaning, and separating the livers of the monkfish as they are brought up. Chris' gillnets allow as much bycatch through the nets as possible. The nets are incorporated with specific types of links that reduce bycatch entanglement and entrapment, while also letting monkfish too small to harvest pass though. Most adult monkfish brought up are around two to three feet in length, though it's possible for them to be up to five feet.
Like most fishermen, Captain Rainone is under "days at sea" pressure, meaning he has a certain number of days his monkfish permit allows him to harvest. Additionally, there is a quota allocation, allowing him to only catch a certain poundage as well. As another detail that evokes industry strategy, monkfish livers are typically largest in the fall and early winter, which pushes boats to brave the winter weather settling in and use their days at sea to harvest fish with more liver weight to export.
When fishing quotas are established, harvesting an accepted poundage may be agreed upon, but within that tight boundary captains like Chris must make those trips out there count, since they only have a limited number of days to catch a certain number of fish. Allocating quotas to specific boats and areas that have unread or misread populations is one of many issues to consider. This is where the importance of the fishery's research and science comes into play, so as to correctly allocate quotas to certain coastal states and fishing vessels with concern also for where populations are.
Other targeted species Captain Rainone is after include bluefish, menhaden, and croakers, most of which depend on seasonality and migration through New Jersey waters. As quality is of upmost priority for the management at Viking Village and the vessels that dock there, this concept goes far beyond the attention to detail of each individual product. Quality seafood is about responsibility - of care and planning for the future fishery - as much as it is about an experienced crew and getting enough ice on a fresh catch.
Of course, this all directly translates to any fishery, but for monkfish, the quality and care from people like Chris and his crew is what upholds not only the value of the product in US and international markets, but also its longevity, which is of highest importance. Industry awareness and participation with those who are catching, selling, trading, and eating in restaurants or at home are what ensures a positive impact for years to come. With involvement from start to finish in fisheries management to consumers, the success of monkfish and its quality will continue to be an example of responsibly harvested seafood here in the US - the true meaning of sustainable fish.