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Silver Hake

Merluccius bilinearis

Silver Hake illustration

Also Known As

  • Whiting
  • Atlantic hake
  • New England hake

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

Population

Above target population levels for the northern stock and the southern stock.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

Fishing gears used to harvest silver hake have minimal impacts on habitat.

Bycatch

Raised-footrope trawls are required in designated areas when targeting hake to minimize bycatch of other species.

  • Availability

    Year-round.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from Maine to South Carolina.

  • Taste

    Mild and slightly sweet.

  • Texture

    Hakes have softer flesh and are less flaky than other whitefish such as cod, haddock, and pollock.

  • Color

    Raw and cooked hake is white to off-white.

  • Health Benefits

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

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council manage the silver hake fishery.
  • Silver hake are managed and assessed as two stocks: The Gulf of Maine and Northern Georges Bank (northern stock) and the Southern Georges Bank and Mid-Atlantic (southern stock). The southern stock includes southern silver hake and offshore hake.
  • Managed under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan for Small Mesh Multispecies:
    • Permitting requirements.
    • A cap on the amount of groundfish bycatch that fishing vessels can take.
    • Seasonal and spatial limitations throughout the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank on fishing with small mesh.
    • Trip limits by mesh size and area.
    • In-season trip limit reductions and catch monitoring help prevent excessive catches.
  • The small-mesh multispecies fishery is managed primarily through a series of exemptions from the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan. Exempted fisheries allow vessels to fish for specific species, such as silver hake, in designated areas using mesh sizes smaller than the minimum mesh size allowed under the Regulated Mesh Area regulations.

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • In 2019, commercial landings of silver hake totaled 11.5 million pounds and were valued at $8.6 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.

    • Silver hake is part of the small-mesh multispecies management unit, along with red hake and offshore hake, which are collectively referred to as “whiting."
    • The small-mesh multispecies fishery in the United States operates from Maine to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • Fishermen using small-mesh trawl gear to catch silver hake must comply with a number of specific requirements to reduce bycatch of larger groundfish species.
    • In designated areas, fishermen are required to use raised-footrope trawls, which are designed to keep the net off the bottom to reduce bycatch of flatfish and other species.
    • Discard rates for silver hake are relatively low (10% of the northern silver hake landings and 21% of the southern whiting and offshore hake landings).
    • Approximately 60% of the red hake caught as bycatch in the whiting fishery are discarded.
  • Recreational fishery:
    • Recreational fishermen do not target silver hake but sometimes catch them incidentally while fishing for other groundfish.
    • There are currently no restrictions on recreational possession, size, or gear type for silver hake caught recreationally in federal waters.
    • There are no specific areas for the recreational fishery.

The Science

Population Status

  • There are two stocks of silver hake: the Gulf of Maine/Northern Georges Bank stock and the Southern Georges Bank/Mid-Atlantic stock. According to the most recent stock assessments:

    • The Gulf of Maine/Northern Georges Bank stock is not overfished and not subject to overfishing (2020 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.

    • The Southern Georges Bank/Mid-Atlantic stock is not overfished and not subject to overfishing (2020 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.

Location

  • Silver hake are found in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and range primarily from Newfoundland to South Carolina.

Habitat

  • In U.S. waters, two stocks have been identified. The northern stock of silver hake inhabits the waters of the Gulf of Maine and Northern Georges Bank, and the southern stock inhabits the waters of Southern Georges Bank and the Mid-Atlantic Bight.
  • As nocturnal, semi-pelagic predators, silver hake move up in the water column to feed at night, primarily between dusk and midnight. They return to rest on the ocean bottom during the day, preferring sandy, muddy, or pebbly ocean bottoms.
  • Silver hake migrate in response to seasonal changes in water temperatures, moving toward shallow, warmer waters in the spring.
  • They spawn in these shallow waters during late spring and early summer and then return to deeper waters in the autumn.
  • Older, larger silver hake prefer deeper waters.
  • During the summer, portions of both stocks can be found on Georges Bank.
  • During the winter, fish in the northern stock move to deep basins in the Gulf of Maine, while fish in the southern stock move to outer continental shelf and slope waters.
  • Silver hake are widely distributed, and have been observed at temperature ranges of 2 to 17° C (36 to 63° F) and depth ranges of 11 to 500 meters (36 to 1,640 feet). However, they are most commonly found in temperatures between 7 and 10° C (45 to 50° F).

Physical Description

  • Silver hake are silvery in color, brownish on the back and whitish on the belly, with black speckles on the back and black inside the mouth.
  • They have large heads for their size and sharp teeth.
  • They have long pectoral fins and are fast swimmers.

Biology

  • Female silver hake are serial spawners, producing and releasing up to three batches of eggs in a single spawning season.
  • Spawning areas include the coastal region of the Gulf of Maine from Cape Cod to Grand Manan Island, southern and southeastern Georges Bank, and the southern New England area south of Martha’s Vineyard.
  • Their peak spawning occurs earlier in the south (May to June) than in the north (July to August).
  • More than half of 2-year-old silver hake and virtually all 3-year-olds are sexually mature.
  • Silver hake can live as long as 14 years, although few fish older than age 6 have been observed in U.S. waters in recent years.
  • They can grow to be more than 28 inches long and up to 5 pounds.
  • Silver hake are important to the northwest Atlantic ecosystem both as prey and predators.
  • They are voracious predators and feed on fish, crustaceans, and squid.

Last updated: 01/08/2021