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Anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) in Fareose waters: distribution, migration, life history and fishery


Lise Helen Ofstad

Havstovn (Fiskirannsóknarstovan)

Aðrir luttakarar:
Petur Steingrund, Torstein Pedersen


Stuðul úr Granskingargrunninum:
1.200.000 kr.

Anglerfish Lophius piscatorius has during the last two decades become a highly exploited resource and is now one of the five most economically important demersal fish species in the Faroese fishery. Despite this, there is at present little information available on the population status of anglerfish in Faroese waters. The main aim of this study is to increase the biological knowledge of anglerfish and to perform an assessment of the stock in order to evaluate the sustainability of the anglerfish fishery and to investigate trophic interactions between anglerfish and other commercially important demersal fish species.

Anglerfish illicia, the first fin ray, were used for age reading. The age determinations were validated and concluded to be useful in an age-based assessment because the growth rates were consistent with length frequency and mark-recapture analyses. Anglerfish have a very high growth rate during their first year of life, compared with the older ages. Males mature at a lower length and younger age than females. The L50 for males and females was 58 cm and 84 cm, respectively, corresponding to an age of around four years for males and seven years for females. Observations of spawning males and females, egg-ribbons and pelagic anglerfish larvae revealed that anglerfish have a prolonged spawning season, which peaks from February to April. In addition, observations showed that there are at least two local spawning areas, one southwest of the Faroe Plateau and one in the Faroe Bank area.

Large anglerfish tagged with data storage tags and conventional tags showed a seasonal offshore-onshore migration. They migrated to shallow depths in summer to feed and to deeper waters in winter, presumably to spawn. Anglerfish performed vertical movements up into the water column, and were most active in these vertical movements during the winter time and during the nights, and light intensity seemed to trigger the migrations. Anglerfish distribution was temperature dependent, since anglerfish generally preferred temperatures warmer than 4ºC, usually between 6.5–11ºC. This may explain why anglerfish were distributed deeper west of the Faroe Bank area compared to the Faroe Plateau, which is surrounded by cold water deeper than approximately 500 m.

Anglerfish in Faroese waters preyed on a variety of food items. They were generally eating fish and the most important prey species in terms of numbers were Norway pout and blue whiting, whereas cod and haddock contributed most in weight. Annual consumption by anglerfish on commercially important demersal species, such as cod, haddock and saithe, was estimated to correspond to 33, 19 and 2% of the landings and to 75, 20 and 2% of biomass losses due to natural mortality, respectively. Even with this high cod consumption by anglerfish, cod cannibalism and fishing mortality still have greater impact on the cod stock dynamics than predation by anglerfish. The annual biomass loss of anglerfish due to cannibalism was estimated to nearly 15% of the annual loss due to natural mortality. Anglerfish in Faroese waters may be regarded as a separate stock because all life stages are found in the area, local spawning area, seasonal offshore-onshore migration on the Faroe Plateau, together with insignificant emigration/immigration (< 5%). An age-based stock assessment of anglerfish in Faroese waters for the period 1999–2011 showed that the stock biomass ranged between 9000 and 19000 t with a peak in 2004–2005 and the fishing mortality for age 3–8 varied between 0.2 and 0.5 year-1. The yield per recruit curve indicated that the stock was slightly growth overfished. Decreasing the fishing mortality could potentially increase the yield per recruit by around 10% leading to a 50% higher equilibrium biomass of anglerfish. No clear stock-recruitment relationship was found. On the other hand, anglerfish year-class strength was correlated with environmental variables, such as sandeel abundance. Hence, the rather short time series of anglerfish year-class strength provides little or no evidence of recruitment overfishing. It is recommended that stock assessments should be performed on an annual basis, allowing managers to react timely when there are signs of overfishing or recruitment failure due to natural or fishery causes.

The objective of this project is to improve biological knowledge about anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) in Faroese waters and to investigate which factors determine stock size. An investigation of the life history parameters (recruitment, growth and mortality) will provide answers about whether e.g. climatic change, migration, nursery area, spawning, predation or feeding constrain anglerfish stock size. This will in the end strengthen the basis for stock assessment and management of this species. Also, predation of anglerfish on other commercial important fish species such as cod and haddock will be investigated in order to address the multi-species effect of this species in the ecosystem.

Anglerfish is one of the economically most important demersal fish species in the Faroese fisheries, and the landings have increased markedly in the last decade. The direct fishery for anglerfish started in the early 1990s, which resulted in a marked increase in the landings from 1997 and onwards. In the period 1999 to 2001 landings were about 2000 tonnes and increased to 5500 tonnes in 2006. There was a decrease of 1000 tonnes from 2006 to 2007. The annual increase in landings of more than 1000 tonnes from 2003 to 2005 may be due to a more directed fishery and is a consequence of reduced availability of more traditional stocks. Anglerfish in Faroese waters are exploited mainly in Faroese gillnet and trawl fisheries. There are two anglerfish species distributed in Faroese waters. Lophius piscatorius is targeted as the main species and occasionally L. budegassa is caught (<0.5% of the landings). There is no ICES assessment of anglerfish around the Faroes. It is of great interest, scientifically, economically and politically, to obtain and increase our knowledge of the anglerfish biology in order to manage the stock in a proper way. The results from this project will give important background knowledge for sustainable management of a valuable fish resource.


1. Scientific articles, books, thesis etc.:
Accepted in Fisheries Research: Ofstad, L.H., Pedersen, T., Angus, C.H., and Steingrund, P. 2013. Age and growth of anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) in Faroese waters. Fisheries Research, 139: 51–60. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fishres.2012.05.011.
Submitted to Fróðskaparrít: Ofstad, L.H., Pedersen, T., and Steingrund, P. Maturation, reproduction and early life history of anglerfish Lophius piscatorius in Faroese waters.
PhD-thesis: Ofstad, L.H. Anglerfish Lophius piscatorius L. in Faroese waters: Life history, ecological importance and stock status.

2. Other results, such as unpublished articles, patents, computer systems, original models and new procedures:
Unpubliched articles: Ofstad, L.H., Steingrund, P., and Pedersen, T. Seasonal offshore-onshore migration and distribution of anglerfish Lophius piscatorius in Faroese waters. Manuscript.
Ofstad, L.H., Steingrund, P., and Pedersen, T. Feeding ecology of anglerfish Lophius piscatorius in Faroese waters. Manuscript.

3. Publications outside the scientific community, i.e. lectures, periodicals, articles in newspapers, television and radio:
2010: A note on recapture of anglerfish tagged with data storage tag.
Sjóvarmál 2010: “Havtaska ferðast helst við havstreymum”.
Lecture at FAMRI about anglerfish age and growth
Lecture at “Framløgudagur- Fiskivinnugransking” 7. mars 2011 about recaptured anglerfish with data storage tags.
Sjóvarmál 2011: “Norsk havtaska fiskað við Føroyar”.
Note about “Føroysk merkt havtaska svam meiri enn 1 ¾ ár við goymslumerki” on the Institute’s homepage. This note came in different homepages and in the radio.
Lecture at FAMRI about anglerfish maturation, reproduction and results from recapture of anglerfish with data storage tags.

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