Merlangius merlangus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea and Eastern Channel
Stock detail


Picture of Whiting

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

The stock is healthy although fishing pressure is too high. Discarding of the stock is high in some areas and fisheries and measures are required to improve their selectivity. The greatest part of the annual whiting catch is from the Northern North Sea and landed into Scotland by boats working with larger meshes and SMP’s to reduce discard levels. Ask for fish from trawlers using approved methods to improve selectivity and reduce discards. Avoid eating fish below the size at which it matures, 30 cms, and during its breeding season, January to July.


Whelks are large marine gastropods, or snails, with strong, whitish shells. They are found from Iceland and northern Norway to the Bay of Biscay, and can be locally abundant around the UK except for the Isles of Scilly. They inhabit sandy and muddy areas, although they can be found on gravel and rocky surfaces, down to depths of 1,200 metres.

Whelks mate during autumn and winter and baby whelks emerge in the spring.

Whelks are carnivorous. They scavenge at depths between 3 - 600m. They have an exceptionally acute chemical sensory ability - which enables whelks to be commercially exploited in baited pots.

Whelks are a particularly vulnerable species because they are long-lived (up to about 15 years), mature late (5-7 years) and produce relatively low number of eggs. In addition, they aggregate together, lay their eggs on the seafloor and are easy to catch. Their exceptional acute sense makes it easy to attract them to whelk pots. These factors make them more susceptible to local overfishing, and once overfished, have a slow path to population recovery. This is further exacerbated when few whelks have had a chance to mature, which can lead to stock collapse e.g. in the Dutch Wadden Sea in the mid 1970as.

Stock information

Criterion score: 1 info

Stock Area

North Sea and Eastern Channel

Stock information

Spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has fluctuated around, and is now above MSY Btrigger. Fishing mortality (F) has been above FMSY throughout the time-series. Since 2003 recruitment (R) has been generally lower than in previous years. ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2018 should be no more than 26 804 tonnes (23,527 in 2017; 28,317t in 2015; 36,992 t in 2014).


Criterion score: 0.5 info

A management plan for this stock was agreed by EU and Norway in 2014. Following the agreed management plan targets implied a decrease for human consumption landings of more than 15%. This plan has now been replaced and the EU-Norway management plan revised in line with new MSY targets. Effort restrictions introduced in 2003 for the protection of North Sea cod and a long term management plan for the recovery of cod stocks, adopted in 2008, has resulted in fishing effort in the area being substantially reduced. EU effort restrictions to protect the North Sea cod stock have benefited whiting. The overall reporting of catch data provided to ICES has improved during the period 2012-2015 through, for example, the fully documented fisheries (FDF) programme and increased coverage by the Scottish industry/science observer sampling scheme. Scientists recommend measures to improve selectivity in those fisheries with high rates of discarding to maximize the benefit for the fishery of this stock.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Whiting in this area are caught in mixed demersal fisheries, fisheries targeting flatfish and Nephrops fisheries. It is also taken as bycatch in industrial fisheries for sandeels and Norway pout. Trawling is associated with high levels of bycatch and, if in contact with the seabed, benthic impacts can also occur. The minimum landing size (MLS) for whiting in the North Sea is 27cm. Regulations in the area include a minimum mesh size of 120 mm in the north, this has led to a decrease in discarding rates which have dropped from 60% in 2003 to 47% in 2009 to 22% in 2013. However since 2000 the human consumption Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for this stock has been restrictive, and discarding rates have increased and are expected to be high as a result. EU effort restrictions to protect the North Sea cod stock have benefited whiting. The distribution of whiting and uptake of the quota has resulted in substantial discarding of whiting in some areas. In 2016 39% of catch (33 759 tonnes) was unwanted, comprising discards (12 572 tonnes) and fish below minimum size (632 tonnes).


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)


ICES Advice 2017 http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2017/2017/whg.27.47d.pdf