Merlangius merlangus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Seine net
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Celtic Seas (southern), Western English Channel
Stock detail — 7b, 7c, 7e-k
Picture of Whiting

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

The stock is at very low levels (below Blim, the level at which the stock’s ability to reproduce may be impaired) as a result of recent poor recruitment of young fish into the stock, but it is predicted to increase above Blim under current management measures. Fishing pressure is above sustainable levels, although recent catches have been below Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and the advice. The TAC does not match the area covered by the stock, as it also covers eastern English Channel whiting. Discards are significant, but reduced in 2018 to 15% from 32-26% for the previous three years. More needs to be done to improve gear selectivity and avoid unwanted catches of whiting. Whiting is caught as part of a mixed fishery, with haddock and cod. The bycatch of Celtic cod is of particular concern as the stock is in a very poor state and advice for it is a zero catch. Bycatch of Celtic cod is mainly by demersal otter trawl (76%), but it is also caught by seines (7%). With regard to habitat impacts, demersal otter trawling can cause abrasion to the seabed. Seine netting has fewer impacts.


Whiting is a slender bodied, sandy, blue-green coloured fish with conspicuous white sides and belly, silvery when alive. A member of the gadoid family, the same as cod and haddock, it occurs throughout northeast Atlantic waters at a wide range of depths, from shallow inshore waters to depths of 200m. They mature at an age of 2-3 years and at a length of about 30 cm. The average landed length is usually around 30-40 cm, however whiting can grow up to 70 cm and 3 kg. Whiting breeds between January and July, but mostly in spring. The maximum reported age is 20 years.

Stock information

Criterion score: 1 info

Stock Area

Celtic Seas (southern), Western English Channel

Stock information

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has decreased since 2012. It has been below MSY Btrigger (35,000 tonnes) since 2017, and below Blim (25,000 tonnes) since 2018. SSB in 2018 was 24,379t and in 2019 was 17,423t. Fishing mortality (F) was below FMSY (0.52) between 2008 and 2016, but has increased above FMSY since - although it is still below Fpa (0.8). In 2018 it was 0.62. Recruitment has been below average since 2014.

ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for the Western Waters and adjacent waters is applied, catches in 2020 that correspond to the F ranges in the MAP are between 4157 tonnes and 6481 tonnes. This is a 59% reduction on last year’s advice, owing to a downward revision of SSB (owing to low recruitment) and an estimated continued reduction in SSB. Fishing at the top of this range is predicted to return SSB to 33,720t by 2021 - a 43% increase, but still below MSY BTrigger. It would be consistent with a fishing mortality of 0.35, which is below FMSY. It is surprising to see advice given in the form of a range rather than a single recommended catch limit when the stock is below BLim.

The present advice is highly dependent on the recruitment assumption for 2019.


Criterion score: 0.5 info

This stock is covered by the EU Western Waters Multi Annual management Plan (MAP). Rather than holding strictly to MSY-based reference points, the MAP includes upper and lower ranges for fishing pressure (F), and requires F to be reduced when the stock drops below MSY BTrigger. It allows for a fishery to be closed if the stock falls below BLim, as is currently the case for this stock.

Whiting in divisions 7.b, 7.c, and 7.e-k is fished under a common TAC with whiting in Division 7.d. By mixing the biological and TAC areas for different whiting stocks, it will be difficult to achieve the objective of fishing at maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for both stocks. ICES therefore recommends that management should be implemented at the stock level.

In general, it would appear that catches have been some way below TACs and advice, suggesting that catch limits are not limiting in this fishery.

Since 2017, the landing obligation has applied to this stock, although up to 6% of the catch can be discarded by the main gear types. A significant proportion of unwanted catch is above the Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS, 27 cm), and is possibly discarded due to low market value. Discards are still significant, but reduced in 2018 to 15% from 32-26% for the previous three years. High levels of discarding for a species like whiting reduce long term yields, so efforts to improve selection and reduce discards in the mixed fishery should be encouraged. Further gear modifications to increase the likelihood of small whiting passing through the gear, such as introduction of larger minimum mesh sizes, separator panels, or grids may be needed.

In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.
The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota ‘uplift’ being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.
Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels.
The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.
The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Of the estimated 10,268t caught in 2018, 8,773t was landed, and caught mainly by otter trawls (78%); and seine nets (15%). The discarded 1,495t was mainly caught by otter trawls (65%) and beam trawls (33%).

Bycatch of Celtic cod is mainly by demersal otter trawl, but cod is also caught by seines. It is of significant concern, as the current advice is for zero catch of this stock.

There are prohibitions on landing vulnerable marine species with depleted population abundance, e.g. common skate, black (Norwegian) skate, white skate, undulate ray, spurdog and angel shark.

Since 2005, ICES rectangles 30E4, 31E4, and 32E3 have been closed during the first quarter to reduce fishing activity on spawning aggregations of cod off North Cornwall, and this seems to have worked. The effectiveness of the closed rectangle off the Irish coast is less apparent due to a poorer understanding of spawning cod distribution. The effects of the closed areas upon the whiting stock are unclear.


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
Coley, Saithe
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)


EU, 2019. Regulation (EU) 2019/472 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 March 2019 establishing a multiannual plan for stocks fished in the Western Waters and adjacent waters, and for fisheries exploiting those stocks. Available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1554387217276&uri=CELEX:32019R0472 [Accessed on 12.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Working Group for the Celtic Seas Ecoregion (WGCSE). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:29. 1078 pp. doi: 10.17895/ices.pub.4982. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2019/WGCSE/01_WGCSE_2019.pdf [Accessed on 16.07.2019].

ICES, 2019. Whiting (Merlangius merlangus) in divisions 7.b-c and 7.e-k (southern Celtic Seas and eastern English Channel). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, whg.27.7b-ce-k, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4807. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/whg.27.7b-ce-k.pdf [Accessed on 16.07.2019].

Seafish, 2018. RASS Profile: Whiting, Celtic Sea, Demersal otter trawl. Available at https://www.seafish.org/risk-assessment-for-sourcing-seafood/profile/whiting-celtic-sea-demersal-otter-trawl [Accessed on 17.07.2019]