Hake, European

Merluccius merluccius

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Gill or fixed net
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Bay of Biscay to Northern North Sea (Northern Stock)
Stock detail

IIIa, IV, VI, VII, VIIIa,b,d.


Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

Picture of Hake, European

Sustainability rating one info

Sustainability overview

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has increased significantly since 2006 and is well above historical estimates. Fishing mortality has decreased sharply in recent years and has been below F MSY since 2012. Discards of young hake can be substantial in some areas and in some fleets and measures are required to address this. Hake is a late maturing fish. Avoid eating immature fish below about 50cm, and during their breeding season, February to July, although note spawning will occur at different times in localised areas within this period throughout the stock range.

The Cornish hake gill net fishery was certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as a sustainable fishery in June 2015. MSC certified Scottish whitefish fisheries include hake, plaice, saithe, whiting and haddock. Hake from these fisheries is the best sustainable choice currently available.


Hake belongs to a group of fish known collectively as Merluccidae. There is only one species, European hake, found in European seas. European hake is widely distributed over the Northeast Atlantic shelf. Hake is a top predator and cannibalistic. It is a late maturing fish, spawning from February to July in northern waters. There are two major nursery areas: the Bay of Biscay and off southern Ireland. As they approach maturity, hake move into deeper waters offshore. Hake can attain a length of 100-180 cm, with a weight of 11-15 kg. Females mature at 5-6 years at about 50 cm.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

Stock Area

Bay of Biscay to Northern North Sea (Northern Stock)

Stock information

There was a pronounced stock decline in the 1980s, with spawning-stock biomass (SSB) hitting a historical low in the early 1990s. A recovery plan was introduced for the stock in 2004.
The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has increased substantially since 2006 and is well above historical estimates. Fishing mortality (F) has decreased markedly after 2005 and has been below FMSY since 2012. The two most recent recruitment (R) estimates are above the average of the time-series.
ICES assesses that fishing pressure on the stock is below FMSY, Fpa, and Flim and that spawning-stock size is above MSY Btrigger, Bpa, and Blim.
ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2019 should be no more than 142 240 tonnes.


Criterion score: 0 info

A recovery plan for the stock was agreed by the EU in 2004. The plan has not yet been evaluated by ICES and is currently using target values that are now considered no longer appropriate. The European Commission has proposed a multiannual management plan (MAP) for the Western Waters, which is not yet finalised.
Discarding of juvenile hake (undersized and above minimum size) can be substantial in some areas and fleets. Measures to improve selectivity towards larger fish is required to reduce discarding of juvenile hake which can be substantial.
In the most recent period, discarding of large individuals increased because of quota restrictions in certain fleets. In 2017, observed discards decreased and a rate of 6% estimated for discards in 2017. Some fleets fishing this stock have been under the EU landing obligation since 2016.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Bycatch of marine mammals and other non-target species is problematic in fixed-net fisheries for hake. On a global scale the vast majority of cetacean bycatches are thought to occur in gillnet fisheries. Gillnets can be very size selective for the target fish but can be unselective at the species level for both non-target fish and for mammals, birds and turtles. Harbour porpoise are highly prone to bycatch in bottom-set gillnets used to catch demersal species such as cod, turbot, hake, saithe, sole, skate and dogfish and tangle net fisheries used to capture flat fish and crustaceans due largely to their feeding habits on or near the seabed. Porpoises are generally taken as single animals. The number taken ranges from 1 in 20 hauls for skate to 1 in 54 hauls for cod. EU Regulation 821/2004 requires all community fishing vessels, greater than or equal to 12 metres, using drift, gill and tangle nets to use pingers - acoustic devices to deter marine mammal entanglement in nets. It also requires Member States to introduce observer schemes to monitor cetacean bycatch in certain fisheries, most notably in pelagic trawls, and the phase out of driftnet fisheries in the Baltic Sea. See Fishing Methods for more details.


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
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)


https://www.msc.org/track-a-fishery/fisheries-in-the-program/certified/north-east-atlantic/cornish-hake-gill-net/cornish-hake-gill-net (Last accessed July 2017)
ICES (2018) http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2018/2018/hke.27.3a46-8abd.pdf
Nunny L (2011). The Price of Fish: A review of cetacean bycatch in fisheries in the north-east Atantic
Ross and Isaac (2004). The Net Effect. A WDCS Report for Greenpeace.