Hake, Cape

Merluccius capensis; Merluccius paradoxus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — South East Atlantic (FAO 47)
Stock area — South Africa
Stock detail — Inshore Fishery
Picture of Hake, Cape

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Hake is a slow growing fish with a lifespan of about 14 years. M. capensis, mainly taken in inshore waters, is above sustainable levels and catches below Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). The deepwater paradoxus stock is below precautionary levels and a rebuilding plan is in place. Measures to reduce bycatch of seabirds and other fish species have been adopted through a comprehensive management plan and observer programme. The Cape hake fishery has been certified as a responsible fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) since 2004. Only buy fish from inshore waters and certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.


Cape hake belongs to a group of fish known as Merluccidae. It is found on the continental shelf and in waters to depths over 1,000 m. It breeds throughout the year, with peaks of reproductive activity in August and September. Hake is a slow growing fish with a lifespan of about 14 years. It is known to grow to about 115 cm and males and females are not very easily differentiated. Merluccius capensis is known to prey on the young of the similar but smaller, deep-water hake, Merluccius paradoxus, and cannibalism is also seen in both species. Both species aggregate to spawn, once in early summer and again in autumn. The species migrates southward in spring and north in the autumn. After fertilisation at depth, hake eggs float to the surface and the larvae quickly develop and become free swimming in the upper levels of the sea. After a short period, baby hake then migrate to the bottom of the sea. Hake also undertake daily vertical migration. They aggregate close to the bottom in the daytime and then disperse and move higher in the water in the night to feed on fish and plankton. Trawlers target hake at the bottom of the sea in the daytime.

Stock information

Stock Area

South Africa

Stock information

Trawl fisheries targeting hake provide over half of the value of all fisheries in South Africa. The offshore trawl fishery mostly targets deepwater M. paradoxus on the shelf edge of the Namibian border southwards, whereas shallow water M.capensis is the target of the inshore trawl fishery, which operates mostly on the Agulhas Bank, off the south coast. The 2 species overlap in their depth distribution, and both are found around the entire South African coast.

The South African Cape hake fishery began being intensively harvested after World War II, and built up to a maximum harvest in the early 1970s of 300,000 tonnes. The fishery then went into decline, which prompted the implementation of a larger mesh size (11cm) for nets. This, together with South Africa’s declaration of a 200 nautical mile fishing zone in 1977, led to a gradual recovery in catch rates. Since then, the fishery has been controlled largely by means of company allocated quotas within a conservative TAC, limitations on the number of vessels, and certain closed areas. Historically hake was assessed as a single species. Now however species-specific assessments are being conducted. M. capensis is above sustainable levels and catches below Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). The deepwater paradoxus stock is below precautionary levels and a rebuilding plan is in place. A comprehensive scientific observer programme has collected information on both target and non-target species and the information fed into management and scientific advice.


The stock is managed by a system of total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas, in waters off South Africa and Namibia, by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism: Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) Branch. The fishery was first certified as a responsibly managed fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in 2004 and re-certified in 2010.

Capture Information

The deep-sea trawl sector for South African hake operates primarily on the shelf edge in waters deeper than 300 metres from the Namibian border southwards to the south coast. The inshore trawl fishery operates along the South African south coast and typically comprises mostly small side-trawlers working in waters shallower than 110 metres on the Agulhas Bank. Deepsea trawlers range from 20 to 90 metres in length and inshore trawlers ranging from 15 to 35 metres in length. Trawl fisheries account for 90% of the hake caught. Longlines and handlines are also used in the inshore fishery.There is a potential for damage to seabed and benthic habitat by trawling. Trawling is also associated with discarding of unwanted fish, i.e. undersized and/or non-quota and/or over-quota species. To conserve stocks, a larger mesh size (11cm) was introduced in the late 1970s. Issues associated with the fishery are bycatch of other fish species, notably those that are currently classified as over-exploited, including kob and kingklip. The fishery also has a history of seabird bycatch (mainly white chinned petrel). A Deep Sea Bycatch Management Plan has since been developed and measures including precautionary catch limits and seasonal closed areas introduced through permit conditions to reduce bycatch of monk and kingclip. Seabird bycatch has fallen from 18,000 birds per year to 200 following introduction of Tori lines (lines with streamers to scare away seabirds whilst hauling the net) and night setting (when seabird encounters are much fewer).There has been good compliance with night setting due to better hake catches at night, but poor uptake of the use of tori lines. Measures to reduce impacts on benthic habitat include ‘ring-fencing’ exisiting trawling grounds to reduce the amount of habitat affected and Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) to ensure compliance.


Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler
Bass, seabass (Farmed)
Bream, Gilthead (Farmed)
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)