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

The stock biomass is at an all time low with a large proportion of the annual catch discarded annually. 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 cm, and during its breeding season, January to July.

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: Default red rating info

Stock Area

West of Scotland

Stock information

The spawning stock biomass (SSB) has been increasing since 2010 but remains very low compared to the historical estimates and is below Blim (the lowest observed level). Fishing mortality (F) has declined continuously since around 2000 and is estimated well below FMSY. Recruitment is estimated to have been very low since 2002, but estimated to have increased in recent years. ICES assesses that fishing pressure on the stock is below FMSY, Fpa, and Flim, and that the spawning stock size is below MSY Btrigger and below Bpa and Blim. ICES continues to advise that when the precautionary approach is applied, there should be zero catch in each of the years 2019 and 2020.

Management

There are no specific management objectives known to ICES. Given the continued high discards and low Total Allowable Catch (TAC) this stock could become a major ‘choke species’ for the Nephrops fishery in the area in the context of the landing obligation. Choke species are fish species for which quotas are so limited relative to local or general abundance that the imposition of a landing obligation (LO) in a mixed fishery is liable to result in fishing vessels having to cease operations well before they have caught their main quota allocations. The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) agreed for the fishery has been above catches advised by scientists for many years. The EU has proposed a multiannual management plan for the Western Waters, which is not yet finalised.

Capture Information

There is no directed fishery for whiting in this area. It is primarily taken as a bycatch by trawlers using 80-120 mm nets, fishing for Nephrops and whitefish. Demersal trawling is associated with benthic impacts and high levels of bycatch. The highest proportion of effort is by relatively small meshed trawlers fishing for Nephrops, which are less selective for whitefish resulting in high levels of discarding. The increase in mesh size from 100 mm to 120 mm and the introduction of large square mesh panels in the Nephrops fishery, are likely to have contributed to the observed reductions in fishing mortality.
The Scottish Nephrops fleet have been actively working towards, and implementing, improved selectivity measures in small mesh trawls which are specifically aimed at reducing whitefish catches and discards, and are now operating on the West Coast with several approved gears. But despite the widespread use of large square mesh panels the proportion of fish discarded from this fishery remains high. The minimum landing size for whiting is 27cm, however fish over this size have been observed to be discarded. From a total catch of 1723 t in 2017, 1547 t (90 %) were discards with Nephrops trawlers using small-meshes accounting for 69% of discards and 3% of landings.

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
Bass, seabass (Farmed)
Bream, Gilthead (Farmed)
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia

References

ICES Advice 2018. ICES Advice on fishing opportunities, catch, and effort Celtic Seas Ecoregion Published 29 June 2018. Available at: http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2018/2018/whg.27.6a.pdf (Accessed November 2018).