Whitebait

Various inc. spratus spratus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — All applicable methods
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — All Areas
Stock detail

All Areas


Picture of Whitebait

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

The term whitebait is used widely throughout the world, referring to small, usually marine, fishes. It has been reported that whitebait available in the UK is made up mostly of young sprats from the Baltic Sea, but depending on the source, these may be mixed with the young of shad, herrings, sticklebacks, gobies and shrimps. It is often difficult to identify different species when they are so small, meaning that in some fisheries the monitoring and reporting of the actual catch may be skewed. Harvesting fish when they are small and before they have matured means they have not contributed to the growth of the population; therefore significant harvesting of juveniles of any stock can have a disproportionately large impact on the health of the population. Small fish are also important prey for other fish, marine mammals and bird species.

Mature sprat is a more sustainable alternative to whitebait, so if you see whitebait on the menu, ask if it is pure sprat.

Biology

Whelks are large marine gastropods, or snails, with strong, whitish shells. They are found from Iceland and northern Norway to the Bay of Biscay, and can be locally abundant around the UK except for the Isles of Scilly. They inhabit sandy and muddy areas, although they can be found on gravel and rocky surfaces, down to depths of 1,200 metres.

Whelks mate during autumn and winter and baby whelks emerge in the spring.

Whelks are carnivorous. They scavenge at depths between 3 - 600m. They have an exceptionally acute chemical sensory ability - which enables whelks to be commercially exploited in baited pots.

Whelks are a particularly vulnerable species because they are long-lived (up to about 15 years), mature late (5-7 years) and produce relatively low number of eggs. In addition, they aggregate together, lay their eggs on the seafloor and are easy to catch. Their exceptional acute sense makes it easy to attract them to whelk pots. These factors make them more susceptible to local overfishing, and once overfished, have a slow path to population recovery. This is further exacerbated when few whelks have had a chance to mature, which can lead to stock collapse e.g. in the Dutch Wadden Sea in the mid 1970as.

Stock information

Criterion score: 1 info

Stock Area

All Areas

Stock information

Management

Capture Information