The Pacific Whiting Fishery

Pacific whiting (or hake, Merluccius productus) comprises the largest fishery off the West Coast of the U.S. and British Columbia.  Pacific whiting is primarily made into surimi, a minced fish product used to make imitation crab and other products.  More recently, there has been growth in the production of hake fillets.

The whiting fishery developed in the 1960s with the arrival of distant water fleets from the former Soviet Union and eastern European nations.  In the 1980s, the fishery in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (i.e., 200 miles seaward of state waters) evolved into a joint venture operation between foreign at-sea processing vessels and U.S. catcher vessels.  By the 1990s, the fishery had developed into a domestic fishery with three distinct sectors – Catcher/Processors (CP) that harvest and process at-sea; Motherships (MS) that take deliveries from catcher vessels and process at-sea; and Shoreside (SS) where shorebased processing plants take deliveries from catcher vessels.

Under the Pacific Council's groundfish fishery management plan each non-tribal fishery sector receives an allocation of the annual whiting harvest level; 34% to CP, 24% to MS, and 42% to SS.

Coastal treaty Tribes in Washington State comprise a fourth sector of the U.S. Pacific whiting fishery.  Per an agreement with the U.S. government, coastal treaty Tribes receive a specific annual allocation of whiting.  Their allocation is based on the level of allowable of harvest, which varies year-to-year.

Coast-wide fishery landings of Pacific hake averaged 221 thousand mt from 1966 to 2010, with a low of 90 thousand mt in 1980 and a peak of 363 thousand mt in 2005. Prior to 1966 the total removals were negligible relative to the modern fishery.  Recent coast-wide landings from 2006-2010 have been above the long term average, at 274 thousand mt. Landings between 2001 and 2008 were predominately comprised of fish from the very large 1999 year class, with the cumulative removal from that cohort exceeding 1.2 million mt.  In 2008, the fishery began harvesting considerable numbers of the then emergent 2005 year class.  Catches in 2009 were again dominated by the 2005 year class with some contribution from an emergent 2006 year class and relatively small numbers of the 1999 cohort.  The 2010 fishery encountered very large numbers of two-year old hake from the 2008 year-class, while continuing to see substantial numbers from the 2005 and 2006 year-classes.  The United States has averaged 164 thousand mt, or 74.5% of the average total landings over the time series, with Canadian catch averaging 56 thousand mt. (Stewart et al., 2011).

In November 2003, the U.S. and Canada signed the –  Agreement Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America on Pacific Hake/Whiting – to establish new ways to strengthen cooperation between Canada and the U.S. by creating a process under which the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is decided and the fishery is managed. Under this agreement, 26.12% of the TAC is annually allocated to Canada, and 73.88% of the TAC is annually allocated to the United States.  The Agreement was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 2006 and signed into law on January 12, 2007 when President Bush signed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006.

Further information about management under the Hake Treaty is available on the Pacific Hake Treaty webpage.

Updated August 21, 2012