The Cape hakes

Two species of hake are found in South African waters: the shallow-water Cape hake Merluccius capensis and the deep-water hake Merluccius paradoxus. Both species are referred to as “demersal fish” because they generally live and feed on or near the seabed (the demersal zone).

As their names suggest, the two species live at different depths: shallow-water hake have been recorded from close inshore (30m) to about 500m, with most of the population living between 100 and 300m, while deep-water hake range from depths of 110 to 1 000m, with most of the stock located between 200 and 800m. Both species increase in size the further offshore and the deeper they live and so large shallow-water hake co-exist with (and feed extensively on) smaller deep-water hake.

On the west coast, the continental shelf is narrow and most trawling is in deep water; as a result, catches are dominated by deep-water hake. In contrast, most trawling on the south coast is on the wide continental shelf (the Agulhas Bank) and shallow-water hake tends to dominate, accounting for as much as 70% of hake catches.

Although the two species are distinct, they are usually caught, processed and sold under the collective name of “Cape hake”, “Cape capensis” or “Cape haddie”.

More about the Cape hakes

Merluccius capensis
Merluccius paradoxus

Status of the stocks

Fish stocks fluctuate naturally and in 2014, after six consecutive years of increased catch rates, the hake fishery entered a downward phase. The total allowable catch (TAC) was reduced slightly in 2015 and held steady at 147 500 tons in 2016. Further cuts were made in 2017 and 2018. The TAC for 2018 is 133 119 tons.

Stocks of deep water hake (M. paradoxus) which have been fluctuating around MSY (maximum sustainable yield) for several years are now thought to be above MSY. This will be confirmed during the Marine Stewardship Council surveillance audit that is scheduled for May 2018. Stocks of shallow water hake (M. capensis) remain above MSY¹.

¹ Maximum sustainable yield or MSY is theoretically, the largest yield (or catch) that can be taken from a species’ stock over an indefinite period. The concept of MSY is fundamental to the notion of “sustainable harvest”. It aims to maintain the population size at the point of maximum growth rate by harvesting the individuals that would normally be added to the population, allowing the population to continue to be productive indefinitely.