Pacific Hake

Pacific Hake, Merluccius productus

The Pacific Hake, Merluccius productus, whose common Spanish name is merluza norteña, is a member of the Merlucciid Hake or Merlucciidae Family, known collectively as merluzas in Mexico. There are three recognized stocks of Pacific Hake with varying locations, spawning dates, and sizes; these were historically divided into three different species – the Cortez Hake, Merluccius hernandezi, the Pacific Hake, Merluccius productus, and the Panama Hake, Merluccius angustimanus, however, they have now been consolidated into the Merluccius productus species, even though many scientists still recognize Merluccius angustimanus as a different species. This fish is also known as the Pacific Whiting. Globally, there are thirteen species in the genus Merluccius, two of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.

The Pacific Hakes have elongated compressed bodies that taper to a narrow tail base. They are metallic silver-reddish with black specks dorsally and transition to silvery-white ventrally. The inside of their mouth is black. Their head is short, large, and flattened with large eyes and a large mouth equipped with sharp teeth and a projecting lower jaw. Their anal fin has 36 to 42 rays and their caudal fin is short and concave. They have two dorsal fins, the first being triangular, short, and tall with one spine and 9 to 12 rays, and the second being a mirror image of the anal fin with a long base, a notch dividing it partly, one spine, and 39 to 44 rays. Their pectoral fins originate beyond the start of the anal fin. Their pelvic fins are well-developed and located before the pectoral fins. They have 18 to 23 gill rakers and are covered with minute scales.

The Pacific Hakes are a coastal and offshore pelagic schooling species that undergo daily vertical migrations from the surface to depths up to 4,600 feet. They are fast growing for the first four years and reach 91 cm (36 inches) in length and 1.2 kg (2.6 pounds) in weight. They are nocturnal feeders and consume shrimp, plankton, and smaller fish. In turn they are preyed upon by Dogfish Sharks, Sea Lions, and Whales. A new emerging threat are the Humboldt Squids, which have expanded their range and are voracious predators of the Pacific Hake. They migrate northward from July to September into the shallower waters of southern Oregon and return in December to the deeper and more seaward waters off Baja for spawning. Reproduction is not well-documented but they are believed to reach maturity between the ages of three and four with each female laying between 80,000 to 500,000 eggs and spawning occurring more than once a year. They have a lifespan of up to sixteen years.

In Mexican waters the Pacific Hake are found in all waters of the Pacific.

The Pacific Hake is a straightforward identification and cannot be confused with any other species.

The Pacific Hakes are one of the most important commercial species of the West Coast of North America. They are harvested with otter trawls and longlines at a level of 500,000 tons per annum off the coastal waters of North America with about 50% caught in United States waters and about 25% each in Canadian and Mexican waters. They are heavily regulated with annual commercial quotas, bans on recreational fishing in some areas, and area closures. They are used primarily for fishmeal with whole fish being utilized for aquaculture feeds, omega-3 human nutritional supplements, and pet food. A small percentage is frozen and exported for use in human consumption. They have a delicate texture and a mild slightly sweet taste and are used to produce breaded fish sticks and surimi most of which is sold as artificial crab sticks and kamaboko in Asian markets. Due to their short shelf-life, most fish are fully processed at sea at the time of collection. From a conservation perspective, they are currently considered of Least Concern as they are widely distributed, abundant, heavily monitored and regulated, and found in several Marine Protected Areas. However, their populations are difficult to assess, prone to overfishing, and within their known range, their stocks have significantly diminished from historical levels in some areas.

Pacific Hake, Merluccius productus. Provided by the commercial fishermen of Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, January 2009. Length: 20.0 cm (7.8 inches). Fish identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.