Hake, Cape

Merluccius capensis, Merluccius paradoxus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Longline
Capture area — South East Atlantic (FAO 47)
Stock area — South Africa
Stock detail — All Areas
Picture of Hake, Cape

Sustainability rating rating under review 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.


Management is comprehensive but only partially effective. The stock status of M. capensis is good, but as the stock cannot be managed separately to M. paradoxus, for which the relative stock status is less certain, there is a significant management issue. Management for the mitigation of seabird bycatch is comprehensive, but compliance is only good for night setting. A Deep-Sea Bycatch Management Plan has been drawn up, and measures, including precautionary catch limits and seasonal closed areas, have been Introduced through permit conditions to reduce the bycatch of monk and kingklip. Seabird by-catch (identified for the first time during the certification process) has fallen from 18,000 birds per year to 200 birds per year following the introduction of Tori lines (lines with streamers to discourage birds whilst hauling the trawl).

Capture Information

The longline fishery has a history of seabird bycatch (mainly white chinned petrel), which is assumed to be of moderate prevalance as exact numbers are difficult to ascertain. Management measures have been introduced to deal with this, such as the setting of tori lines (streamers to scare away seabirds) 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.


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)