Shallow-water Cape Hake

(Merluccius capensis)

Stockfish, Stockvis, Merlu, Fishfingers, Haddock, Hake

1. What is it?

Shallow-water Cape hake (Merluccius capensis) are inshore, demersal, slow growing fish. They are found at depths of 30 m to 450 m and often caught with deep-water hake species. They are distributed all along the southern African coast from Angola to KwaZulu-Natal. They are serial spawners with a high fecundity making them relatively resilient to high fishing pressures The most recent stock assessment indicates the stock is good condition and being harvested sustainably. South African trawl caught hake is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as sustainable and will therefore appear on the SASSI green list.

2. How was it caught or farmed?

Hake demersal longline

Shallow-water Cape hake are caught using a bottom set double line system with baited hooks placed 1.5m apart (known as “demersal longlines”). Lines may contain nearly 20,000 hooks and extend over 10 km along the sea floor. In some cases, shallow-water Cape hake is caught alongside deep-water Cape hake species using longlines at varying depths. A recent study as part of the fishery conservation project (FCP) revealed that the fishery has very few interactions with endangered, threatened and protected species (ETP), with few discards and low levels of bycatch. Impact on benthic habitats is considered to be minimal although more information is required.

Inshore demersal trawl

Shallow-water Cape hake are caught in the inshore trawl fishery for hake (MSC certified) and sole using trawl nets. In the inshore zone, trawl nets are dragged along the seabed at depths in the area from the coast to the 110 m isobath or to 20 nautical miles from the coast, whichever is the greater distance. Demersal trawling is known to damage the seabed; the extent and impact of this damage remains unknown. This methodology is not selective, however, and a number of other benthic species are often caught in the nets as well. Seabird bycatch was highlighted as an issue and the subsequent introduction of tori lines (lines covered in coloured streamers making attachment lines more visible to birds) has led to a decrease in bird mortalities.

Offshore demersal trawl

Shallow-water Cape Hake are fished using trawl nets that are dragged along the seabed at depths typically ranging from 110 m to 800 m (known as “demersal trawl nets”). This type of trawling is known to damage the seabed; the extent and impact of damage remains unknown. Trawling is not a very selective fishing method and a number of other species are often caught in the nets (fish, sharks and rays). Seabird interactions with trawl cables near the surface are also a major concern. A success story in the fishery has been the implementation of effective seabird mitigation strategies developed in connection with the MSC-certification process. These strategies have resulted in a dramatic reduction in seabird-fishery interactions through the introduction of tori lines (lines covered in coloured streamers making trawl attachment lines more visible to birds) and improved disposal of offal (discards that attract seabirds).

3. Where is it from?

Hake demersal longline

Although shallow-water Cape hake can be found all around the Southern African coastline their primary zone of capture by inshore-water fisheries is the Agulhas Bank off the south coast. As most hake fisheries in South Africa catch shallow-water and deep-water hake together a single Total Allowable Catch (TAC) was assigned for both species. A portion of the TAC is awarded to each fishing sector. Management of the sector is considered largely effective as a result of the work conducted during the FCP. Continuing challenges include the lack of a government-funded observer programme and the slow progress regarding the implementation of an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries management.

Inshore demersal trawl

Shallow-water Cape hake are typically caught by inshore fisheries around the Agulhas Bank off the South Coast. Management of hake (both species) in South Africa is through an Operational Management Plan (OMP) that uses a quota-based system which provides an annual Total Allowable Catch (TAC) to permit holders. There is a fishery conservation project (FCP) presently underway seeking to test a co-management approach that would bring under management 10 non-target species in the sector. There are additional ecosystem-based management measures in place in the fishery, such as the use of tori lines to minimize seabird interactions and limited fishing areas. There is presently little information on impacts to sensitive shark, skates and ray populations as well as impacts to the seabed. Efforts are underway to improve the scientific observer coverage at sea for this sector to better understand ecosystem impacts.

Offshore demersal trawl

Shallow-water hake are typically fished on the continental shelf edge and upper slope along the west coast from the Namibian border southwards and on the South Coast primarily around the Agulhas Bank. Management of hake (both species) in South Africa is through an Operational Management Plan (OMP) that uses a quota-based system which provides an annual Total Allowable Catch (TAC) to permit holders. There are a handful of ecosystem-based management measures in place such as precautionary catch limits on certain bycatch species, tori lines to reduce sea bird interactions, and limited fishing areas (i.e. fishing within a “footprint” to limit seabed disturbance). There is little information on impacts to sensitive shark, skate and ray populations as well as impacts on the seabed.