Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Chapter or Section
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 4601
Type of Book: Technical
Section or Chapter Title: Biology, fisheries, assessment and management of Pacific hake (Merluccius productus)
Book Title: Hake: Biology, Fisheries and Markets [2nd Edition]
Series Title: Wiley-Blackwell Science  Fish and Aquatic Resources Series
Author: O. S. Hamel, P. H. Ressler, R. E. Thomas, D. A. Waldeck, Allan C. Hicks, J. A. Holmes, G. W. Fleischer
Editor: H. Arancibia (Ed.)
Publication Year: 2015
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Science
Keywords: Pacific hake,California Current,Acoustic survey,Treaty,assessment,management


Pacific hake (Merluccius productus), also known as Pacific whiting, is the most abundant commercial fish species in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem (CCLME) and is an important part of the ecosystem as both predator and prey.  A large migratory population occurs off California, Oregon, and Washington in United States waters and off British Columbia in Canadian waters. Smaller distinct non-migratory populations of Pacific hake occur in major inlets of the northeast Pacific Ocean, including the Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound.  The coastal Pacific hake population has supported a fishery averaging 222 thousand tonnes per year since 1966.  Coastal Pacific hake migrate to northern feeding areas in the summer and southern spawning areas in the winter.  The extent of the northern migration and the distribution along the coast are related to the population age and size composition and to varying ocean-climatic conditions, which also influence growth and location of spawning aggregations. Pacific hake have a lifespan of around 20 years, reach maturity around age 4, and achieve an average asymptotic size of 53 cm. 

Coastal Pacific hake are managed under the auspices of a treaty between the United States and Canada, and the two countries jointly conduct acoustic surveys of the resource, stock assessments, stock assessment reviews and management meetings. Prior to the treaty there were independent and competing stock assessments from the United States and Canada. The Hake Treaty established a default harvest policy, a fixed harvest allocation for each country, and a Joint Management Committee that determines the annual coastwide Total Allowable Catch based on the best available science, the treaty's default harvest policy, and input from industry advisors. Regulation and management of the individual fisheries continues to rest within each country. 

The fishery is executed by four sectors in the United States: vessels that deliver to shore-based processors, vessels that deliver to at-sea processors (motherships), vessels that both catch and process at-sea (catcher-processors), and a tribal fishery. The Canadian fishery is prosecuted by vessels that deliver to shore-based processors, with a joint-venture mothership sector in some years. The Pacific hake fishery in the United States and Canada is jointly certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as a sustainable fishery. Pacific hake must be frozen or processed soon after harvest to achieve a marketable product. Currently, most Pacific hake is marketed as fillets or headed and gutted products, although previously a large portion of the harvest was turned into surimi. While none of these products demand a high price, the total revenue to the industry is in the tens of millions of U.S. dollars.