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Pacific Whiting

Mercluccius productus

Illustration of a Pacific Whiting

Also Known As

  • Pacific hake

U.S. wild-caught Pacific whiting is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

Above target population levels.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

Mid-water trawls used to harvest Pacific whiting have minimal impact on habitat.

Bycatch

Bycatch is low because mid-water trawls target schools of whiting.

  • Availability

    Frozen whiting is available year-round.

  • Source

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

  • Taste

    Mild and slightly sweet.

  • Texture

    Soft and less flaky than other whitefish such as cod and pollock. 

  • Color

    Raw and cooked whiting ranges from pure white to off-white.

  • Health Benefits

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

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • The coastal stock of Pacific whiting is managed through the bilateral Pacific Whiting Agreement between the United States and Canada.
    • The agreement allocates a harvest quota to American and Canadian fisheries. The United States is allocated nearly 74 percent of the annual quota and Canada the remaining 26 percent.
  • NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the Pacific whiting fishery on the West Coast, in U.S. federal waters (3 to 200 miles offshore).
  • Managed under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:
    • Permits and limited entry to the fishery.
    • Certain seasons and areas are closed to fishing.
    • Gear restrictions and area closures help reduce bycatch and impacts on habitat.
    • Managers use annual harvest quotas to regulate the coastwide catch of Pacific whiting.
    • There are several sectors of the U.S. whiting fishery, and managers divide allowable catch among them. Sectors include:
      • Non-tribal catcher boats delivering to shore-based processing facilities.
      • Non-tribal catcher boats delivering to at-sea mothership processors.
      • Non-tribal vessels that both catch and process the catch at sea. 
      • Tribal harvesters.
    • The shore-based trawl fishery, which includes vessels targeting Pacific whiting, is managed under the trawl rationalization catch share program that includes:
      • Catch limits based on the population status of each fish stock and divided into shares that are allocated to individual fishermen or groups.
      • Provisions that allow fishermen to decide how and when to catch their share.
      • Total catch accounting and 100 percent observer coverage.
  • The Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative was established in 1997 by fishing companies owning trawlers in the catcher/processor sector of the fishery.
    • They allocate their catch quota among cooperative members to allow them to use the quota more efficiently. The result is a less wasteful, more environmentally friendly fishery that produces a higher quality product..  

Harvest

  • In 2020, commercial landings of Pacific whiting totaled 546 million pounds and were valued at $36.8 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • Mid-water trawls are primarily used to catch Pacific whiting.
    • Mid-water trawling has minimal impact on habitat and low incidental catch of other species.
    • Fishermen follow a number of regulations to reduce potential bycatch in the fishery.      
      • Mesh on the narrow, back end (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 bycatch of Chinook salmon.
      • Each sector’s catch is 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.
  • Recreational fishermen do not target Pacific whiting but sometimes catch them incidentally while fishing for other groundfish and salmon. 

The Science

Population Status

  • There are three stocks of Pacific whiting: a migratory coastal stock, a central-south Puget Sound stock, and a Strait of Georgia stock.
    • According to the 2021 stock assessment, the coastal stock of Pacific whiting is not overfished, and is not subject to overfishing based on 2019 catch data. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
    • The Puget Sound and Strait of Georgia stocks are considered species of concern.  There has been no directed commercial fishery for these stocks since 1991. 

Location

  • Pacific whiting is found off the West Coast from Southern Baja California and the Gulf of California to the Gulf of Alaska.

Habitat

  • 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 are found in water over 3,000 feet deep and 250 miles or more offshore.

Physical Description

  • Pacific whiting is a round fish.
  • They are silvery in color with black speckles on the back and black inside the mouth. 

Biology

  • Pacific whiting grow fast, up to 3 feet in length, and can live to more than 15 years old.
  • Relatively little is known about their spawning season and locations. They are known to spawn in large numbers from January through March off south-central California, and were traditionally thought to migrate seasonally. However, recent studies have also shown that they may spawn as far north as Canada.
  • 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.
  • Female whiting are able to reproduce when they reach 2 to 4 years old (13 to 16 inches long). Males mature by 3 years of age (11 inches long).
  • Females release their eggs, which males then fertilize externally. Eggs hatch in 5 to 6 days.
  • They feed on shrimp, krill, and pelagic schooling fish, such as eulachon and Pacific herring. As whiting grow larger, fish make up a greater part of their diet.
  • Many fish-eating species, such as lingcod and Humboldt squid, prey on Pacific whiting. Sablefish, albacore, pollock, Pacific cod, rockfish, sharks, and marine mammals also feed on Pacific whiting.

Last updated: 10/21/2021