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Hake in the North Sea, Skagerrak and Norwegian coastal waters

The distribution of the European hake covers an area extending from Mauritania off the north-west coast of Africa northwards to Iceland and east over to Norway and the North Sea, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. The last couple of years have seen an increase in hake abundance especially in the North Sea, north of Scotland and west of Ireland. It is uncertain whether these observations are the result of good recruitment, influx from surrounding areas, or reduced fishing mortality. Landings from the North Sea have also increased the last 5 years, and as such reduced fishing mortality is unlikely to be the reason for the observed increase in abundance.  

Hake is found close to the bottom at 50-600 meters depth during the day, but may migrate upwards into shallower depths at night to feed. The main preys include mackerel, herring, blue whiting and mesopelagic nekton (lanternfish, hatchetfish, shrimps, and krill). Stomach content analyses have also shown that hake prey on hake, but that the extent of cannibalism depends on fish size and location.

Hake that is distributed along the Spanish coast and in the Bay of Biscay spawns mainly between January and June, whilst specimens in Norwegian waters appear to spawn between July and October. Estimating the age of hake is difficult partly because of false annual rings associated with environmental changes and also because of unclear otolith cores. Recaptures from tagging studies done off the coast of France have shown that hake grow quicker than previously assumed. Based on the comparison of genetic material hake in the North Sea seems to be different to fish west of Scotland and in the Mediterranean Sea.

Hake with its firm white meat is a popular and sought after species especially in Europe. Spain is the largest consumer of hake, followed by Portugal, France and Italy.

Facts about hake

Latin name – Merluccius merluccius
Other name: Svartkjeft eller kolkjeft
Family: Hake family (Merlucciidae)
Maxiumum size: 140 cm and > 13 kg
Lifespan: 12 years
Distribution: North East Atlantic, North Sea, Skagerrak / Kattegat, Norwegian fjords
Spawning areas: Bay of Biscay and west of Ireland / England along the 200 m isobaths, North Sea and Norwegian fjords
Spawning time: During summer / autumn in Norwegian fjords
Feed: Herring, mackerel, hake, mesopelagic fish, krill

Map of distribution

Klikk for stort bilde

Status, advice and fishery

Hake in the North Sea and Skagerrak/Kattegat is managed as part of ICES ‘northern hake’ stock, which also covers the Bay of Biscay, Celtic Sea, and the area west of Ireland and Scotland. Hake north of 62° is not part of this management area.

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