Whiting

Merlangius merlangus

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

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated: December 2019 

Whiting in the Rockall subarea are caught by Irish and Scottish fisheries as bycatch in haddock and anglerfish fisheries. In the 1960s whiting landings were reaching over 3000 tonnes. From the 1970s - 1990s this dropped to the order of hundreds. In the last 20 years, landings have been negligible, often below 10 tonnes. This has led the most recent ICES report to suggest that there is no self-sustaining whiting population in this subarea. In the last 5 years, landings have consistently been 2-5 times greater than the ICES advice despite the poor stock status. Furthermore, there is no management in place for whiting caught in the Rockall subarea. Whiting is typically caught using demersal otter trawls which are damaging to the seabed and potentially impact ETP species. Given the lack of data for this stock, the low landings and that no management plan exists, whiting from Rockall is not recommended.

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: 1 info

Stock Area

Rockall

Stock information

The whiting stock in this region has not been assessed and is classed as a category 6 stock - the most data deficient category. No data exists for discards or biomass, which means no reference levels are able to be calculated. Whiting is mainly landed by Scottish and Irish fisheries. When the precautionary approach is applied, less than 9 tonnes of whiting should be landed per year in 2020 and 2021.

Due to the lack of whiting biomass data, route 2 has been taken to assess the stock health. The only available data is landings, which are uncertain in terms of accurate reporting, and historically high variability. In the 1960s there were landings of 3,000 tonnes, whereas during 1970s - 1990s the landings were in the order of hundreds. Since the early 2000s the landings have been negligible, often below 10 tonnes and reaching a maximum of 105 tonnes in 2006. Given it is highly likely that there is no self-sustaining whiting stock, biomass is of concern. This is supported by the Rockall haddock survey (2012 - 2018) where whiting over the age of 1 have been recorded in very low numbers (<10), if at all except for an unusual (relative) peak in 2016 of around 100. The TAC for this area is combined with subareas 12 and 14, and division 5b. Whiting landings from Rockall since 2014 have been above the recommended catch of 11 tonnes (2014: 29, 2015: 52, 2016: 33, 2017: 40) thus fishing pressure is of concern despite the general decrease in effort in the Rockall fisheries since 2008. Whiting has a medium resilience to fishing pressure.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

While there are some certified fisheries that have whiting as bycatch and should thus be working on reducing whiting bycatch, and surveillance and minimum landing sizes are in force, there is no management in place for whiting in 6b. Recommended catches are not being met, with landings being 2-5 times the ICES advice. Improvements to the whiting stock are likely to be by proxy via management of other fisheries (e.g. haddock). However, given it is unlikely that there is a self-sustaining population of whiting, recovery seems optimistic. Furthermore, the healthy status of haddock and high haddock TAC suggest it is unlikely that whiting will have much of a reprieve.

Although the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for stocks in in the Western Waters and adjacent waters came into force in 2019, it does not cover whiting in 6b.

In the demersal fishery, where it is likely the majority of this whiting is landed as bycatch, there appears to be nothing in place to actively reduce whiting catch. Landings have been above the recommended catch of 11 tonnes since 2014 (2014: 29, 2015: 52, 2016: 33, 2017: 40).

In area 6b, fishing is closed in multiple areas around the Rockall Bank including the Northwest and southwest Rockall Bank area and the Haddock Box. The former two are closed to protect Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) and the latter to protect haddock stocks. Secondary species, such as whiting and cod, may also benefit from these closures. In Rockall, there is a minimum landing size for whiting of 27 cm.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Whiting is bycatch in a mixed demersal otter trawl fishery that targets gadoids (mainly haddock) and monkfish. Most target species are not overfished or undergoing overfishing, however, there are some concerns over ETP species catch and a lack of data to verify their catch rates. Trawling is largely over a mixture of substrates, including rocky reefs and boulders.

In the mixed gadoid demersal fishery, several elasmobranch species can be caught in otter trawls, including the common skate (complex) and spurdog. Both species have depleted populations in the area, but protections are in place, including prohibitions are EU level. Trawl gears in the Celtic Seas have been observed to have a high bycatch of elasmobranchs, including vulnerable species. There are closed areas in place to protect habitats utilised by the species, which are enforced using VMS data. However, there is a lack of information regarding catch rates for both species in the fishery and low observer coverage. Therefore it is difficult to fully understand the impact of the fishery on ETP species.

There is potential for damage to the seabed by trawling (e.g. see the EU BENTHIS project). Trawling is also associated with discarding of unwanted fish, i.e. undersized and/or non-quota and/or over-quota species. There are a number of closed areas on the Rockall and Hatton Banks and the Darwin Mounds to protect cold-water corals. Large areas near the Wyville-Thompson ridge are also closed to demersal trawling which affords protection for corals in these areas. Fishing is closed in multiple areas around the Rockall Bank including the Northwest and southwest Rockall Bank area and the Haddock Box. The former two are closed to protect Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) and the latter to protect haddock stocks. By proxy, whiting too may be afforded some protection.

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.b (Rockall). Published 29 June 2018 whg.27.6b. Available at: http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2018/2018/whg.27.6b.pdf [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

ICES. 2019a. Working Group for the Celtic Seas Ecoregion (WGCSE). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:29. 1587 pp. Available at http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.4982 [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

ICES. 2019b. Celtic Seas ecoregion - Fisheries overview, including mixed-fisheries considerations. In ICES Fisheries Overview. Available at https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.4640 [Accessed on 06.12.209]

Midteide, S., Lassen, H., Gaudian G., 2019. Survellience audit no. 1: Report for the NFA Norwegian Ling & Tusk fishery and NFA Norwegian Lumpfish fishery. Available at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/nfa-norway-ling-tusk-and-nfa-norway-lumpfish/@@assessments [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

Jones, H., Cook, R., Gascoigne, J. and Honneland, G., 2018. Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Public Certification Report SFSAG Rockall haddock On behalf of Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) Prepared by ME Certification Ltd. Lymington, UK., Available at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/scottish-fisheries-sustainable-accreditation-group-sfsag-rockall-haddock/@@assessments [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

Seafish, 2017. RASS Profile: Haddock in Division VIb (Rockall), demersal otter trawl. Available at https://www.seafish.org/risk-assessment-for-sourcing-seafood/profile/haddock-in-division-vib-rockall-demersal-otter-trawl [Accessed on 06.12.2019].