Thursday, 11 May 2017

Hake in the North Sea, Skagerrak and Norwegian coastal waters.

"Hail the hake!" became the watchword for skpper Phil aboard the gillnetter, Govenek of Ladram in the Ch4 TV series, The Catch.  Forty, fifty, sixty years ago the mainstay of the fleet in Newlyn were the longliners, then came trawlers and beam trawlers, then came the netters, first fishing with multi and then mono-nets - mainly for hake. Hake was everywhere - a huge fleet of Spanish longliners and trawlers fished for hake all year round and all round the western waters - from south of the Lizard in Cornwall to the Porcupine Bank off the west coast of Ireland.  

Many visiting Scottish fishermen had never seen a hake until they fished aboard a Cornish boat - haddock yes, by the ton but hake? no, never!  Conversely, your average Cornish fishermen hardly ever saw a haddock - trawlermen often used to argue over who would take the handful of half decent haddock home for 'homers'. 

Wind the clock forward to today and the world has changed.  In just four weeks in January this year, Newlyn skipper Roger Nowell, with the 12m inshore trawler Imogen III reckons he dumped (because he has no quota) £20,000 worth of haddock back over the side - and that was without fishing overnight which is when haddock catches are at their best!  Now head north of the border up into the North Sea, home of the haddock and we found Scottish trawlers enjoying a bonanza of hake - where once they saw none.

These two fish highlight the impending disaster that is the Landing Obligation - which EU or no EU, CFP or no CFP we, as in the UK, will be subject fully subject to come 2018 - and with miniscule quoats odf both fish in their respective areas - because the fish were never there before - the issue of 'choke species' becomes a reality.

So it is timely to see that the Norwegian Institute for Marine Research has posted a little more in the way of research on the matter of North Sea hake today.

Here's the full article form the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.

"The distribution of the European hake covers an area extending from Mauritania off the north-west coast of Africa northwards to Iceland and east over to Norway and the North Sea, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. The last couple of years have seen an increase in hake abundance especially in the North Sea, north of Scotland and west of Ireland. It is uncertain whether these observations are the result of good recruitment, influx from surrounding areas, or reduced fishing mortality. Landings from the North Sea have also increased the last 5 years, and as such reduced fishing mortality is unlikely to be the reason for the observed increase in abundance.

Hake is found close to the bottom at 50-600 meters depth during the day, but may migrate upwards into shallower depths at night to feed. The main preys include mackerel, herring, blue whiting and mesopelagic nekton (lanternfish, hatchetfish, shrimps, and krill). Stomach content analyses have also shown that hake prey on hake, but that the extent of cannibalism depends on fish size and location.

Hake that is distributed along the Spanish coast and in the Bay of Biscay spawns mainly between January and June, whilst specimens in Norwegian waters appear to spawn between July and October. Estimating the age of hake is difficult partly because of false annual rings associated with environmental changes and also because of unclear otolith cores. Recaptures from tagging studies done off the coast of France have shown that hake grow quicker than previously assumed. Based on the comparison of genetic material hake in the North Sea seems to be different to fish west of Scotland and in the Mediterranean Sea.

Hake with its firm white meat is a popular and sought after species especially in Europe. Spain is the largest consumer of hake, followed by Portugal, France and Italy."

Facts about hake

Latin name – Merluccius merluccius

Other name: Svartkjeft eller kolkjeft, Heek, Merluccius merluccius, Hake, Merlu, Seehecht, Merluza, Nasello
Family: Hake family (Merlucciidae)
Maxiumum size: 140 cm and > 13 kg
Lifespan: 12 years
Distribution: North East Atlantic, North Sea, Skagerrak / Kattegat, Norwegian fjords
Spawning areas: Bay of Biscay and west of Ireland / England along the 200 m isobaths, North Sea and Norwegian fjords
Spawning time: During summer / autumn in Norwegian fjords
Feed: Herring, mackerel, hake, mesopelagic fish, krill

Map of distribution

Status, advice and fishery

Hake in the North Sea and Skagerrak/Kattegat is managed as part of ICES ‘northern hake’ stock, which also covers the Bay of Biscay, Celtic Sea, and the area west of Ireland and Scotland. Hake north of 62° is not part of this management area.

Article courtesy of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.