Pacific Whiting

Pacific Whiting

Merluccius productus

ALSO KNOWN AS:

    Pacific hake

SOURCE:

    U.S. wild-caught from Washington, Oregon, and California
 

STATUS

  • POPULATION
  • FISHING RATE
  • HABITAT IMPACTS
  • BYCATCH
 

Click the icons to learn more about each criteria

 
 

OVERVIEW

Pacific Whiting

Pacific whiting is a roundfish like cod. They’re silvery in color with black speckles on the back and black inside the mouth.

LAUNCH GALLERY

Pacific whiting is one of several species of whiting from the genus Merluccius that are found worldwide in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Pacific whiting is the most abundant commercial fish species on the U.S. West Coast and supports one of the largest fisheries, by volume, in the United States. This delicate, white-meat fish is most commonly used in the production of surimi, the minced fish product used to make imitation crab and other products; however, the market for whiting fillets is now growing.

While the Pacific whiting fishery is currently one of our largest domestic fisheries, it didn’t start that way. Large-scale harvesting of Pacific whiting first began in 1966, when factory trawlers from the former Soviet Union started to target this species in U.S. waters, soon followed by trawlers from Poland, Germany, and Bulgaria. After the United States began working in joint-ventures, delivering their catch to foreign processing vessels at sea, the U.S. fishing fleet soon grew large enough to harvest the entire quota for Pacific whiting. By 1989, foreign fishing for whiting in U.S. waters was no longer allowed and joint-ventures ceased operation in 1991. The U.S. fishery grew as domestic catcher/processors and motherships from the Alaska pollock fishery started fishing for whiting. When Japanese processors developed techniques to make whiting into surimi in the 1990s, processing plants were built along the Oregon coast and the shore-based sector of the fishery also rapidly expanded. The fishery for whiting in Canada, with whom we share this resource, has a similar history.

Canada and the United States have historically collaborated on research and management of the coastwide whiting fishery. However, during the 1990s, they disagreed on the amount each country should catch and together exceeded catch quotas for several years, overfishing the stock. In 2002, scientists found that the stock was below sustainable population levels (overfished). With lower harvest limits, combined with a productive whiting stock, the resource rebounded rapidly and rebuilt in 2004. Now, the United States and Canada have signed an agreement that allocates a set percentage of the harvest quota to U.S. and Canadian fishermen. Catches have generally remained within limits in recent years and the whiting stock is well above target population levels.

Looking Ahead

Over a decade ago, fishing companies owning trawlers in the at-sea catcher/processor sector of the fishery formed the Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative disclaimer. They allocate their catch quota among cooperative members to allow them to use the quota more efficiently than when all vessels would compete for a share of the catch. The result is a less wasteful, more environmentally friendly fishery that produces a higher quality product. The Cooperative also sponsors research to support whiting stock assessments. Managers recently implemented a similar program for the shore-based trawl fishery, which includes vessels targeting Pacific whiting.

 
 
 

LOCATION & HABITAT

Pacific whiting is found off the west coast of North America from Southern Baja California and the Gulf of California to the Gulf of Alaska. There are three recognized stocks of Pacific whiting: a highly migratory coastal stock that ranges from Southern Baja California to Queen Charlotte Sound, a central-south Puget Sound stock, and a Strait of Georgia stock. (Commercial fisheries target only the coastal stock.)

Pacific whiting school in midwater but have also been observed resting on the seafloor. They’re most common in water between 164 and 1,640 feet deep but adults swim as deep as 3,000 feet and as far as 250 miles offshore.

Pacific whiting migrate seasonally. In the winter, they’re found offshore in southern waters where they spawn. In the spring, they travel nearshore and to the north to feed along the continental shelf and slope from northern California to Vancouver Island. In the summer, they form large schools along the continental shelf break. In years with warmer water temperatures, whiting tend to move farther north during the summer. Older whiting tend to migrate farther than younger fish.

 
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BIOLOGY

Pacific whiting grow fast, up to 3 feet in length, and can live up to 15 years. Female whiting are able to reproduce when they reach 3 to 4 years old (13-16 inches long); males mature by 3 years of age (11 inches long). They spawn from January through March off south-central California. Females release their eggs, which are fertilized externally. The eggs hatch in 5 to 6 days.

Pacific whiting are an important part of the ecosystem in the eastern Pacific because of their abundance. They feed on euphausiid shrimp, pandalid shrimp, and pelagic schooling fish such as eulachon and Pacific herring. As whiting grow larger, fish make up a larger part of their diet. They’re also important prey for many fish-eating species such as lingcod and Humboldt squid. Sablefish, albacore, pollock, Pacific cod, rockfish, sharks, and marine mammals also feed on Pacific whiting.

 
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PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

Pacific whiting is a roundfish. They’re silvery in color with black speckles on the back and black inside the mouth.

 
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OVERVIEW

A joint technical team of scientists from the United States and Canada assess the coastwide Pacific whiting stock every year. The Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative disclaimer, a group of whiting catcher/processor vessels, sponsors research to support whiting stock assessments.

 
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POPULATION STATUS

There are three recognized stocks of Pacific whiting: a highly migratory coastal stock that ranges from southern Baja California to Queen Charlotte Sound, a central-south Puget Sound stock, and a Strait of Georgia stock.

Declared overfished (below sustainable populations levels) in 2002, the coastal stock of Pacific whiting was rebuilt by 2004. This stock currently supports one of the most important commercial fisheries off the U.S. West Coast, and based on the latest assessment (2014), it is not overfished or subject to overfishing.

The Puget Sound and Strait of Georgia stocks are considered “species of concern.” NOAA Fisheries is concerned about their population status and threats but has insufficient information to recommend listing the species under the Endangered Species Act. There has been no directed commercial fishery for these stocks since 1991.

 
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ADDITIONAL RESEARCH

Scientists have identified a number of research areas that could improve stock assessments and management of Pacific whiting, including conducting acoustic surveys every year (rather than every 2 years) to better measure the strength of each generation of whiting, and exploring basic ecosystem information such as whiting’s predators and prey.

 
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Harvesting Pacific Whiting

Fishermen mainly harvest Pacific whiting using mid-water trawls. Vessels tow a cone-shaped net, spread open with trawl doors, through the water column (as opposed to bottom trawling where vessels tow a net along the ocean floor). The large front end of the net herds schools of whiting toward the narrow back of the net (codend) where they are captured.

Mid-water trawling for whiting has minimal impact on habitat and relatively low incidental catch of other species (typically less than 2 percent of the total catch). Fishermen follow a number of measures to reduce potential bycatch in the fishery. The mesh on the codend of their nets must be at least 3 inches to prevent bycatch of small fish. Regulations restrict where fishermen may harvest Pacific whiting to reduce the bycatch of Chinook salmon. Each sector’s catch is also restricted by limits on bycatch of Chinook salmon and depleted rockfish species. There is 100 percent observer monitoring on at-sea processors and catcher vessels; these observers monitor catch. Full accounting of catch leads to reduced bycatch.

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Management

Management of the coastal stock of Pacific whiting is accomplished through a bilateral agreement between the United States and Canada, known as the Pacific Whiting Treaty. The agreement allocates a set percentage of the harvest quota to American and Canadian fishermen. Currently, the United States harvests nearly 74 percent of the annual quota and Canada the remaining 26 percent.

Who’s in charge? The Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries are responsible for the U.S. fishery for the coastal stock. State and local management agencies manage the Puget Sound and Strait of Georgia stocks. There has been no directed commercial fishery for these two stocks since 1991.

Current management: Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan

  • Managers mainly use annual harvest quotas to regulate the coastwide catch of whiting.
  • There are several different sectors of the U.S. whiting fishery, and U.S. managers divide their quota among them:
    • Non-tribal harvesters, including:
      • Catcher boats delivering to shore-based processing facilities.
      • Catcher vessels delivering to at-sea mothership processors (where catch from several boats is brought back for processing and storage until return to land).
      • Processor vessels that both catch and process the catch at sea.
    • Tribal harvesters (Makah and Quileute tribes).

Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative disclaimer

  • Established in 1997 by fishing companies owning trawlers in the mothership and catcher/processor sectors of the fishery.
  • Allocate catch quota among cooperative members to allow them to use the quota more efficiently, compared to vessels competing for a share of the catch. The result is a less wasteful, more environmentally friendly fishery that produces a higher quality product.

The shore-based trawl fishery, which includes vessels targeting Pacific whiting, is managed under the Groundfish Trawl Rationalization Program.

  • Under this new catch share program, managers allocate a share of the catch limit to individual fishermen or groups of fishermen.
  • Fishermen then decide how and when to catch their share – preferably when weather, markets, and business conditions are most favorable, allowing the fishery the flexibility to be more environmentally responsible, safer, more efficient, and more valuable.
  • This program also includes full catch accounting, with 100 percent observer coverage, which leads to reduced bycatch and better data for stock assessments.
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Annual Harvest

Commercial fishermen harvest whiting from the coastal population from April to November along northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. For nearly 50 years, coastwide landings of Pacific whiting have averaged 221,000 metric tons. In 2012, more than 157,475 metric tons of Pacific whiting was landed.

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Economy

Pacific whiting landings were valued at more than $47 million in 2012.

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Recreational

Recreational fishermen do not target Pacific whiting but sometimes catch them incidentally while fishing for other groundfish and salmon. 

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OVERVIEW

More than a dozen species of hake and whiting species are found in temperate and cold waters around the world. The hake family Merluccius is most common in the U.S. market, particularly Atlantic whiting (M. bilinearis), or silver hake, from the Northwest Atlantic. Pacific whiting (M. productus) has very soft flesh and is frozen almost immediately to retain its value. The United States also imports a lot of hake from around the world, typically identified by their geographic origin, including Argentine whiting (M. hubbsi) and Chilean hake (M. gayi). A fish marketed as Cape capensis refers to two high-end hakes from Southwest Africa, M. capensis and M. paradoxus. Antarctic queen is the market name for M. australis, a large hake from southern Chile.

Hakes range in size from the 1- to 2-pound Pacific whiting to the 6-pound capensis. Overall, hakes have softer flesh and are less flakey than other whitefish such as cod, haddock, and pollock. Hake tastes mild and slightly sweet. Raw flesh is white to off-white, with a coarse, watery appearance; cooked, it ranges from pure white to off-white. Pacific whiting is primarily made into surimi, a minced fish product used to make imitation crab and other products. Some are also sold as fillets, as this market is growing.

 
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SEASONAL AVAILABILITY

Fresh: April to November; frozen: year-round

 
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NUTRITION

Whiting is a good source of selenium, vitamin B, magnesium, and protein.  

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 90
Protein 18.31 g
Fat, total 1.31 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.247 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 67 mg
Selenium 32.1 mcg
Sodium 72 mg

Pacific Whiting Table of Nutrition

 
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RECIPES

  • Coming soon...
 
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