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 Pacific Hake landings averaged 223,238 mt from 1966 to 2013, with a low of 89,930 mt in 1980 and a peak of 363,157 mt in 2005.  Prior to 1966, total removals were negligible compared to the modern fishery.  Over the early period, 1966-1990, most removals were from foreign or joint-venture fisheries.  Over all years, the fishery in U.S. waters averaged 167,171 mt, or 74.88% of the average total landings, while catch from Canadian waters averaged 56,067 mt.  Discard from all fisheries is estimated to be less than 1% of landings in recent years.  Landings between 2001 and 2008 were predominantly comprised of fish from the very large 1999 year class, with the cumulative removal from that cohort exceeding 1.2 million mt.

Recent coast-wide catches have been dominated by a small number of year classes.  Catches in 2009 were 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 and 2011 fisheries caught very large numbers of the 2008 year-class, while continuing to see some of the 2005 and 2006 year-classes as well as a small proportion of the 1999 year class.  Of the 2013 total coast-wide catch, 67% came from the 2010 year class.  However, catch age-composition differed between the U.S. and Canada: in 2012, U.S. fisheries caught mostly 4 and 2-year old fish from the 2008 and 2010 year classes, while the Canadian fisheries caught older fish from the 2005, 2006, and 2008 year classes.  In 2013, more than 70% of the U.S. catch was from the 2010 year class whereas Canadian catches were dominated by older fish from 2008, 2006, 2005, and 1999 year classes. (JTC, 2014).

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 July 15, 2014