Merluccius capensis; Merluccius paradoxus
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — South East Atlantic (FAO 47)
Stock area — South Africa
Stock detail — All Areas
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Updated May 2019.
There are two species of cape hake: deep-water and shallow-water. It is very difficult to tell the species apart, and they often overlap geographically, so catches are not distinguished from one another. In the 1970s they were heavily overfished but management measures have been effective at recovering both stocks. They are now in a good state (not overfished and not subject to overfishing) and the trawling industry are taking voluntary measures to manage the impact they have on habitats. However, the impact of trawling in this area is stull not fully understood, and the inshore trawling sector does not have good observer coverage to monitor bycatch and discards. Improvements also need to be made to reduce inshore seabird bycatch. The South African Cape Hake Trawl fishery has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council since 2004. Choose certified fish from this fishery.
Cape hake are found around southern and south-western Africa, off South Africa and Namibia. There are two species of cape hake: deep-water and shallow-water. It is very difficult to tell the species apart, and they often overlap geographically, so catches are not distinguished from one another. As the names suggest, shallow-water cape hake are found in shallower areas (up to 550m deep) while deep-water cape hake can be found between 200 and 850m deep. They reach maturity at around 50cm length and spawn in spring/summer (shallow-water cape hake spawn from October-December and deep-water cape hake from September to November). The larger shallow-water species (they can grow up to 120cm, although tend to be around 50cm) eats young deep-water hake, as well as other fishes and crustaceans. Deep-water hake (which can be up to 82cm but also tend to be around 50cm), eat plankton and fishes. Cannibalism is seen in both species. Hake undertake daily vertical migration - they aggregate close to the bottom in the daytime and move higher in the water at night to feed. Trawling is the most common capture method for both species, with trawlers targeting them on the sea floor in the daytime.
Criterion score: 0.5 info
The two cape hake species are in a good state, with biomass above Maximum Sustainable Yield and fishing pressure not thought to be of concern. In the absence of an assessment of fishing mortality, MCS’s Route 2 data limited scoring has been applied for stock status. Both species have low resilience to fishing pressure.
Catches of cape hake are reported on as one figure, with the two species (deep- and shallow-water) combined, owing to difficulties in distinguishing between them. The South African fishery began in the early 1900s, working inshore and therefore catching only shallow-water cape hake. It became more mixed as trawlers moved offshore (it’s estimated that the fishery switched to predominantly deep-water around 1958), peaking at 300,000t in the early 1970s; less than 50% of these catches were by domestic fleets. By 1975 spawning stock biomass of both species was around 20% of unfished levels. At this point, a 200nm limit for South African waters was imposed, excluding foreign vessels, and minimum mesh size for trawlers was increased. Management plans and TACs (Total Allowable Catches) were subsequently introduced. Stocks have improved as a result, with deep-water cape hake - the species of most concern - reaching 98% of the target Spawning Stock Biomass (SSBMSY) in 2013 and subsequently exceeding it. Stock assessments were last updated in 2018 to include a new species-splitting algorithm, with the SSB of both species above levels corresponding to Maximum Sustainable Yield (deep-water: B2017/BMSY = 1.67; shallow-water: B2016/BMSY = 2.3). While there is no assessment of fishing effort, the improvements in stock status indicate that there is no concern for fishing pressure. Recent catches (since 2010) have been around 140,000t -150,000t, mainly comprising deep-water cape hake. TACs are currently capped at 150,000t, and have decreased from 150,000t in 2013 to around 145,000t in 2018, but increased again in 2019. The Marine Stewardship Council first assessed the entire trawl component of this fishery (90% of total catches) in 2004, and it has remained certified ever since. The next MSC assessment is due in 2020.
Criterion score: 0 info
Management of this fishery appears to be effective and responsive, and has successfully recovered the stocks from a poor state. This fishery has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council since 2004.
Catches of cape hake are reported on as one figure, with the two species (deep- and shallow-water) combined, owing to difficulties in distinguishing between them. However, a considerable amount of effort has gone into assessing the two stocks separately in recent years, in an attempt to accurately account for the mixing of the species within catches. Since the decline of the cape hake fishery in the 1970s and the subsequent introduction of various management measures, including increased minimum mesh size for trawlers, both species have improved to levels above those corresponding to Maximum Sustainable Yield (see Stock Info tab). Total Allowable Catches have been calculated through an Operational Management Plan (OMP, updated every 4 years) since 1991, which is responsive to the status of the stocks and other measures. TACs are currently capped at 150,000t, and cannot increase by more than 10% or decrease by more than 5% from year to year. They are distributed across the 4 cape hake fisheries, minus a bycatch allowance for cape hake caught in the horse mackerel fishery (2% of the horse mackerel TAC): 84% deep sea trawl, 6% inshore trawl, 7% longline, 3% hand line. The current OMP is being reviewed in 2019, and TAC caps and distribution may be revised after that. Under the OMP, limits are set according to the worst-performing stock. A stock rebuilding strategy for deep-water hake was implemented and the precautionary management approach to hake fisheries in recent years has resulted in a faster than anticipated recovery of this species. Trawling has been restricted to its existing footprint since 2015, i.e. they cannot trawl in new grounds. The trawling industry have also voluntarily agreed not to trawl within proposed offshore Marine Protected Areas (with exceptions where they have disputed some boundaries). Effort is controlled through long-term fishing rights, which are issued for up to 15 years and then reviewed (currently around 80 vessels have rights for this fishery). Monitoring, Control and Surveillance would appear to be taking place at sea, in ports and via remote surveillance, although the MSC recommends that improvements could be made in gathering evidence of compliance. The South African hake stocks also overlap with Namibia. The issue of transboundary stocks is being addressed by the Benguela Current Commission (BCC), a multi-sectoral inter-governmental, initiative of Angola, Namibia and South Africa formed in 2007 and given permanent status through the Benguela Current Convention in 2013.
Criterion score: 0.5 info
Demersal otter trawl can have impacts on seabed habitats, and while there are gear restrictions and the industry has voluntarily restricted where trawling can take place, impacts aren’t yet fully understood. Good progress has been made to manage bycatch of fish and seabirds, but more progress and better observer coverage is needed in the inshore fishery.
90% of Cape hake caught in South African waters is caught by trawlers - 84% in the deep sea and 6% inshore. The remainder is caught by longline (7%) and handline (3%). Deep sea trawling usually takes place along the seabed, during day time, to maximise catches. Hake migrate nearer to the surface at night to feed. Trawling has been restricted to its existing footprint (as identified in 2008) since 2015, i.e. they cannot trawl in new grounds -although this existing footprint is quite extensive. The trawling industry have also voluntarily agreed not to trawl within proposed offshore Marine Protected Areas (with exceptions where they have disputed some boundaries): at the time of writing the MPA boundaries had not been finalised. Deep-sea trawling is fairly concentrated around the shelf edge, in waters deeper than 300 metres, while the inshore trawl fishery operates along the coast, comprising mostly small side-trawlers working down to 110 metres. The trawl footprint does cover areas of hard ground, including cold water corals, but the impact of trawling in this fishery is not fully understood. There are ongoing studies into this. Since 1991, there have been limits on trawl gear to minimise impacts on the seabed (e.g. size limit of rollers). Bycatch from this fishery includes the threatened kingklip (Genypterus capensis), which has an upper precautionary catch limit of 3,500t and seasonal closed areas to protect spawning aggregations, and the near-threatened Cape monkfish (Lophius upsicephalus), which has a precautionary 7,000t catch limit. Linefish species such as cob are caught in the inshore trawl fishery, and also have a strict management regime. Minimum mesh size to allow the release of undersize fish is 110mm. However, bycatch has been reported to be 20% of total catches for this fishery. Trawling can also catch birds, which are attracted when the fish are hauled out. The deep-sea trawling industry has introduced bird scaring lines to mitigate this, and a recent study showed a 90% reduction in seabird mortalities, including up to 99% reduction in albatross deaths, since 2004. Observer coverage for the deep-sea fleet is considered to be good. The inshore trawling industry has not made as much progress in reducing bird interactions, and observer coverage for monitoring bycatch and discards is low at 1% rather than the recommended 15% of trips being observed. In both cases, the observer programme is funded by industry, rather than the government.
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
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Monkfish, Anglerfish, White
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Spurdog, Spiny Dogfish, Dogfish, Rock Salmon or Flake
ReferencesDepartment of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. 2018. Annual Report 2017/18. Available at https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/201811/arfinal28-septembera.pdf [Accessed on 29/05.2019].
FAO. 2010. Fishery and Aquaculture Country Profiles: South Africa. Available at http://www.fao.org/fishery/facp/ZAF/en [Accessed on 29.05.2019].
FAO. 2019a. Species Fact Sheets: Merluccius capensis. Available at http://www.fao.org/fishery/species/3029/en [Accessed on 29.05.2019].
FAO. 2019b. Species Fact Sheets: Merluccius paradoxus. Available at http://www.fao.org/fishery/species/3030/en [Accessed on 29.05.2019].
Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2019. FishBase: Merluccius capensis: Shallow-water Cape hake. Available at https://www.fishbase.in/summary/Merluccius-capensis.html [Accessed on 01.11.19].
Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2019. FishBase: Merluccius paradoxus: Deep-water Cape hake. Available at https://www.fishbase.in/summary/Merluccius-paradoxus.html [Accessed on 01.11.19].
MSC. 2019. Marine Stewardship Council: South Africa hake trawl. Available at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/south-africa-hake-trawl/@@view [Accessed on 29.05.2019].
South African Government. 2019a. About SA: Fisheries. Available at https://www.gov.za/about-sa/fisheries [Accessed on 29.05.2019].
South African Government. 2019b. South Africa Yearbook 2017/18: Agriculture. Available at https://www.gcis.gov.za/sites/default/files/docs/resourcecentre/yearbook/3-Agriculture2018.pdf [Accessed on 29.05.2019].