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Pacific hake/whiting (Merluccius productus)

Council: Pacific Fishery Management Council

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Pacific hake (also known by its market name, whiting) is the most abundant groundfish species in the California Current ecosystem and serves as a major forage fish to other fish as well as many fish-eating seabirds and marine mammals such as the California sea lion, Steller sea lion, northern fur seal, elephant seal, harbor seal, as well as dolphins, porpoises, and some whales.

The hake fishery is the largest fishery on the West Coast, reaching a record high of more than 360,000 tons (~794 million lb) in 2005, despite concerns about the low abundance of the breeding stock and fears that the fishery could crash like the California sardine fishery of old.

In 2006, the Pacific Council was warned by scientific advisers that setting the catch level at 269,069 metric tons would result in the population being overfished (below 25% of unfished population size) within two years. The council ignored advice and set it at that level, bowing to intense pressure from the hake fishing industry.

Management Issues
Studies of California sea lion interactions with the Pacific hake trawl fishery off central California in the 1980s indicated the likelihood of competitive and disturbance effects of large-scale hake fishing. Ainley et al.1 (1982), Bailey and Ainley (1982)2 and Livingston and Bailey (1985)3 variously estimated that annual coast-wide pinniped consumption of Pacific hake was 200,000-300,000 metric tons per year, which was comparable to the size of the commercial fishery. The competitive effects of the fishery are not accounted for when managers set the annual catch limits.

Bycatch in the hake trawl fishery is another concern, since numerous other species are caught incidentally along with the hake. In July, 2007 the hake fishery was closed after it exceeded the widow rockfish bycatch limit by 21 tons. The hake fishery is required to close when it catches the maximum bycatch limit of widow rockfish and other depleted rockfish species which are caught incidentally in the trawl nets. Enforcement officers found that a hake trawler had disabled its monitoring camera and dumped an unreported load of widow rockfish overboard. A processing plant was discovered preparing to destroy another unreported rockfish haul. The enforcement team seized camera hard drives from 32 whiting boats, and reported that 40% of the cameras analyzed so far had been off during fish hauls.

No one knows how many tons of rare rockfish species were caught by these unmonitored trawlers.

1 David G. Ainley, Harriet R. Huber, and Kevin M. Bailey. Population Fluctuations of California Sea Lions and the Pacific Whiting Fishery Off Central California. Fishery Bulletin: Vol. 80, No. 2, 1982: 253-258.
2 Kevin M. Bailey and David G. Ainley. The Dynamics of California Sea Lion Predation on Pacific Hake. Fisheries Research 1(1981/1982): 163-176.
3 P.A. Livingston and K. M. Bailey. Trophic Role of the Pacific Whiting, Merluccius productus. Marine Fisheries Review 47(2), 1985: 16-22.

Copyright � Marine Fish Conservation Network. All Rights Reserved 2007

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