Silver Hake (Merluccius bilinearis)

Silver Hake (Merluccius bilinearis)

A member of the Merlucciidae family, the silver hake is primarily known as whiting. An aggressive fish and a swift swimmer, it is a good species for sportfishing.

Identification

The body of the whiting is long and slender, with a flattened head, a large mouth, and strong, sharp teeth. The second dorsal fin and the anal fin are deeply indented, giving the fin a divided appearance. The first fin is short and high. Its coloring is dark gray above, with iridescent purple hues that fade to silvery white on the belly. It has only two dorsal fins and one anal fin and lacks a chin
barbel.

Size/Age

The whiting can reach 21⁄2 feet in length and a weight of 8 pounds, although the average catch is a fish of less than 14 inches; fish exceeding 4 pounds are rare. Ages up to 15 years have been reported.


Spawning behavior

Spawning occurs in the late spring and the early summer, when whiting release their buoyant eggs at the surface, allowing them to drift with the current. Future stocks depend on the weather; if the wind blows the eggs away from inshore, very few will survive, having nothing to feed on. Peak spawning occurs earlier in the southern stock (May and June) than in the northern stock (July and August). Important spawning areas include the coastal region of the Gulf of Maine from Cape Cod to Grand Manan Island, southern and southeastern Georges Bank, and southern New England south of Martha’s Vineyard.

Food and feeding habits

Whiting feed aggressively in large groups on herring, silversides, menhaden, and young mackerel, and on squid and other invertebrates. They have been known to strand themselves on shoals and in shallow waters during the height of their feeding activity after spawning.

Other Names

Atlantic hake, whiting, frostfish; French: merlu argenté; Spanish: merluza norte-americana.

Distribution

Found from the Newfoundland banks southward to the vicinity of South Carolina, the whiting is encountered in large numbers between Cape Sable and New York. In U.S. waters, two stocks have been identified, based on morphological differences; one extends from the Gulf of Maine to northern Georges Bank, and the second occurs from southern Georges Bank to the mid-Atlantic area.

Habitat

Whiting primarily inhabit the cool, deep waters of the continental shelf. Adults stay in deep water offshore but make seasonal onshore-offshore migrations. They range from near the surface to over 600 feet deep. They prefer sand and pebble bottoms and temperatures between 36° and 52°F. Whiting move toward shallow water in the spring, spawn, and return to the wintering areas in the autumn.
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