Whiting

Merlangius merlangus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — West of Scotland
Stock detail — 6a
Picture of Whiting

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated: November 2019.

West of Scotland whiting remains in a very overfished state, some way below Blim, but the fishing pressure is low and the stock size is gradually increasing. However, there is no precautionary management plan or recovery plan, resulting in a critical fail for stock status and a default red rating for West of Scotland whiting. West of Scotland whiting is a low value species and it is caught as bycatch, mainly by Nephrops fisheries.

Biology

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: Critical Fail info

Stock Area

West of Scotland

Stock information

West of Scotland whiting remains in a very overfished state, but the fishing pressure is low and the stock size is gradually increasing.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has been increasing from its low of 2,865 tonnes in 2010, and in 2018 was at 23,143 tonnes. However, this is still below Blim (31,900 tonnes), which it has not reached since 1997, and some way from MSY BTrigger (44,600 tonnes), which it has been below since 1984. Fishing mortality (F) has declined continuously since it peaked at 0.84 in 1999, and in 2017 was estimated to be at 0.041 - well below FMSY (0.18). Recruitment is estimated to have been very low since 2002, but estimated to have increased in recent years.

ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, there should be zero catch in each of the years 2019 and 2020, owing to the depleted status of the stock. Even with 0 catch, SSB is projected to decline by 9% in 2020. 0 catch advice has been issued in every year since 2006. While the Total Allowable Catch has declined in that time, and landings have stayed within it, discards have been high (80% of total catch).

Management

There is no precautionary management plan or recovery plan for this stock, which is below Blim, resulting in a critical fail for stock status and a default red rating for West of Scotland whiting.

This is a depleted stock, but fishing pressure has been successfully reduced and the biomass is gradually increasing. The increase in mesh size from 100 mm to 120 mm, established under the emergency measures in 2010, and the introduction of large square mesh panels in the Nephrops fishery, are likely to have contributed to the observed reductions in fishing mortality. A number of measures to recover cod may also have benefitted whiting: the cod recovery plan in force up to 2008, followed by the cod long-term management plan in force from 2009, which was amended in 2016 to cover the transitional period towards multiannual plans. In 2018 the cod management plan was discontinued to make way for the Western Waters Multi Annual management Plan (MAP) - but the map covers neither cod nor whiting in division 6a. An area north of Scotland, known as the Windsock, has been closed to all fishing since 2003, except for some pelagic trawling, potting and creeling.

0 catch advice for West of Scotland whiting has been issued in every year since 2006. While the Total Allowable Catch has declined in that time, and landings have stayed within it, discards have been high (80% of total catch) and include juvenile (age 0) fish. Whiting are caught and heavily discarded in small-meshed fisheries for Nephrops. Given the continued high discards and low TAC, this stock could become a major choke species” for the Division 6.a Nephrops fishery in the context of the landing obligation. based on expectations for catches in the Nephrops fisheries, whiting catches in 2020 are projected to be 1,171 tonnes, 441 tonnes of which would be wanted catch and 730 tonnes unwanted catch.

In 2015, the industry group GITAG (Gear Innovation and Technology Advisory Group) was established to focus on improving selectivity and support the transition to the landings obligation. The first phase of the project focused on gear development in the Nephrops trawling sector to reduce bycatches, particularly undersized fish. Further trials are planned in 2018-2020. Much of the work has focussed on avoiding cod capture, but has also benefitted whiting stocks.


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

West of Scotland whiting is a low value species and it is caught as bycatch, mainly by Nephrops fisheries. In 2018, finish-directed otter trawls (e.g. haddock trawlers) were responsible for 78% of whiting landings and 12% of whiting discards. Nephrops trawls, on the other hand, which have a smaller mesh size in their nets, were responsible for 3% of the landings and 69% of the discards. On average, 80% of whiting catches have been discarded in recent years, meaning that Nephrops fisheries are responsible for the majority of overall catches of this whiting stock. Based on expectations for catches in the Nephrops fisheries, whiting catches in 2020 are projected to be 1,171 tonnes, 441 tonnes of which would be wanted catch and 730 tonnes unwanted catch.

Around 50% of landings are by Scotland, with most of the rest from Ireland and some in recent years from the Netherlands.

Work is ongoing to improve selectivity in the Nephrops and whitefish trawl fleets in this area, but in the meantime significant amounts of whiting are being discarded. Demersal trawling is also associated with benthic impacts

Alternatives

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
Haddock
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia

References

ICES. 2018. Whiting (Merlangius merlangus) in Division 6.a (West of Scotland). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2018. ICES Advice 2018, whg.27.6a, doi: 10.17895/ices.pub.4484. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2018/2018/whg.27.6a.pdf [Accessed on 19.11.2019].

ICES. 2019. Working Group for the Celtic Seas Ecoregion (WGCSE). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:29. 1587 pp. http://doi.org/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 15.11.2019].

ICES. 2019. EU request to provide likely catches in 2020 of specific bycatch / non-targeted stocks that have zero catch advice (cod in divisions 7.e-k and 6.a and in Subdivision 21, whiting in divisions 6.a and 7.a, and plaice in divisions 7.h and 7.j-k). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, sr.2019.23, https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5646. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/Special_Requests/eu.2019.23.pdf [Accessed on 15.11.2019].