White Hake (Atlantic and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence population)

Urophycis tenuis

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

Description

A fast-growing species that may live longer than 20 years, White Hake can reach up to 135 centimetres in length, and weigh as much as 25 kilograms. It has the following characteristics:

  • an elongated body with threadlike rays extending from its paired (pelvic) fins under its throat to past the tips of its paired (pectoral) fins on the sides of its body;
  • a distinctive small barbel on the underside of its chin, and
  • a large mouth that reaches at least to below its eyes.

Contrary to their name, White Hake are not white at all: they vary in colour from typically muddy-coloured or purple-brown on the back, bronze or golden on the sides, and white or yellow-white on the belly with many tiny black spots.

White Hake are one of the most fertile of the commercial groundfish species: a single female can produce several million eggs during each spawning event.

Habitat

White Hake are found near the sea floor and they prefer areas with sand, mud or gravel. They adjust their depth distribution to find temperatures in the range of 4-8º C. Larger fish are generally found in deeper waters whereas juveniles typically occupy shallow areas close to shore or over shallow offshore banks. Individuals of all sizes tend to move inshore in summer and migrate to deeper water in winter. Juvenile and adult White Hake feed mostly on crustaceans and fish, with larger hake consuming larger prey.

In November 2013, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed this species as two distinct populations or designatable units (DUs): the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence population and the Atlantic and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence population. The Atlantic and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence DU includes White Hake that are found on the Scotian Shelf, in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, and along the south coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Atlantic and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence population spawns in early spring. Spawning also takes place in summer in the Scotian Shelf portion of the DU. The estimated population size is approximately 13 million.

Threats

In 2013, COSEWIC assessed the Atlantic and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence White Hake as threatened as the adult abundance in this population decreased by approximately 70% over the past three generations. High fishing mortality and increased natural mortality contributed to the population decline in the late 1980s and early 90s. White Hake caught in fisheries targeting other marine species is the main threat caused by human activities. However, the primary threat to this species is believed to be high natural mortality.

Further Information

This population is subject to several fisheries management measures, due to its large distribution area.

On the Scotian Shelf, there is no directed fishery for White Hake, and bycatch limits have been in place since 1996. In 2014, Divisions 4X5 and 4VW White Hake Harvest Strategies were adopted to limit fishing mortality to mitigate further declines and, when possible, promote positive change in population levels. Existing fisheries management measures that support the Harvest Strategy include: vessel monitoring, at-sea fisheries observer coverage, hailing requirements, fishing area closures, logbook reporting, and dockside monitoring.

On the Grand Banks and in Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) Div. 3NO, White Hake-directed fisheries continue with set harvest limits. There is also a directed fishery in Subdivisions 3Ps and 3Pn, without harvest limits. In the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, there is no directed fishery, but White Hake are kept as bycatch in other fisheries, and is limited to 10% of the total daily kept weight of target species.

Should the Atlantic and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence White Hake population be listed as threatened under the Species at Risk Act, a recovery strategy and action plan will be developed to assist the recovery of this species.

For more information, visit the SARA registry at www.SARAregistry.gc.ca

White Hake (Atlantic and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence population)

White Hake – DFO Quebec Region

Photo credit: Claude Nozères, DFO

Scientific Name: Urophycis tenuis
SARA Status: No Status
COSEWIC Status: Threatened (2013)
Region: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland

Distribution range

The map represents the location of the two White Hake populations in Canada. The southern Gulf of St. Lawrence population, referred to as DU 1 (Designatable Unit 1), is represented in red and is located in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, lying between the coasts of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Québec. The green zone represents the distribution of the Atlantic and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence population, referred to as DU 2 (Designatable Unit 2), which extends from the southern Labrador shelf in the Northwest Atlantic to the border of the United States, excluding the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. There is an overlap among the two White Hake populations along the southern edge of the Laurentian Channel and a small area northeast of Cape Breton Island.

White Hake

Illustration: Scott and Scott

Did You Know?

Female White Hake are very robust egg producers with several million eggs released during the spawning season! These eggs stay in the water column until they hatch and eventually, when the fish are about 4 cm long, they move to the ocean bottom in shallow waters.

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