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Silver HakeSilver Hake (Merluccius bilinearis)


Implementing regulations are found at 50 CFR part 648 subpart F

The small-mesh multispecies fishery in the U.S. operates from Maine to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  Fishing in the directed small-mesh multispecies fishery is conducted with small-mesh trawl gear with a number of specific requirements to reduce bycatch of larger groundfish species.  The small-mesh multispecies fishery consists of three species:  Silver hake (Merluccius bilinearis), red hake (Urophycis chuss), and offshore hake (Merluccius albidus).  There are two stocks of silver hake (northern and southern), two stocks of red hake (northern and southern), and one stock of offshore hake, which primarily co-occurs with the southern stock of silver hake.  There is little to no separation of silver and offshore hakes in the market, and both are generally sold under the name “whiting.”  The market for small-mesh multispecies is human consumption and as bait.

The small-mesh multispecies fishery is managed primarily through a series of exemptions from the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, which is managed by the New England Fishery Management Council. 

2018 Whiting Bulletins

Click Below for Past Bulletins (Permit Holder Letters):

2018 Whiting Federal Register Actions

 Click Below for Past Federal Register Actions & Public Comments:

2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

Current Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR)

What are other common names for the small-mesh multispecies fishery?  This fishery is most commonly referred to as the whiting fishery, which includes three species:  Silver hake, red hake, and offshore hake.  Silver hake is almost always referred to as whiting.  Offshore hake, because they are similar in appearance to silver hake and are not distinguished are also referred to as whiting or black whiting.  Red hake is most commonly referred to as ling, but can also be called squirrel or mud hake. 

What is the temporal extent of the whiting fishery?  There are seasonal exempted fisheries for small-mesh species in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank (e.g., Cultivator Shoal small mesh fishery, see

What is the geographic extent of the whiting fishery?  The fishery occurs in both New England and mid-Atlantic waters.  Small mesh gear is used in both northern and southern areas.  Silver hake prefer water temperatures between 6 and 18 °C.  Adult red hake prefer water temperatures between 5 and 12 °C. 

At what depths are small-mesh multispecies found?  The water depths vary by species.  Silver hake generally occur at depths less than 200 m but can be found in depths up to 900 m.  Offshore hake are found primarily along the 200 m depth contour (the deepest extent of NEFSC survey coverage) during spring and autumn.

What other species are caught when fishing for whiting?  Typically other small mesh species such as herring and squid.  Small amounts of other groundfish may be caught as well. 

What gears are authorized and what gears are used?  Specialized trawl gear referred to as raised footrope trawls are required when fishing for whiting.  Recreational gear can include rod and real, handline, or spear.

Stock areas for the small-mesh multispecies complexStock areas for the small-mesh multispecies complex

How is the fishery managed?  The Northeast (NE) multispecies small-mesh fishery, also known as the whiting fishery, is managed by the New England Fishery Management Council.  This fishery is primarily managed under a series of exemptions to the NE Multispecies Fishery Management Plan (FMP).

Who manages this fishery?  The New England Fishery Management Council manages the fishery with NMFS as the implementing body.

What is the fishing year for this fishery?  May 1 – April 30

What are the different management areas for the whiting fishery?   

The small-mesh multispecies complex is composed of five stocks of three species of hakes (northern silver hake, southern silver hake, northern red hake, southern red hake, and offshore hake).  The map to the right depicts the stock areas for the small-mesh multispecies complex.

The fishery is managed primarily through a series of exemptions from the provisions of the NE Multispecies FMP.  The fishery is executed largely according to the Regulated Mesh Area (RMA) regulations and specified exempted fisheries.  Please see the exempted fisheries portion of the rules and regulation tab for more information on RMAs and exempted fisheries.

1991 - Amendment 4 (part 1, 2, 3) incorporated silver hake and red hake into the NE Multispecies FMP and established the Cultivator Shoals Experimental Whiting Fishery. 

1994 - Framework Adjustment 6 aimed to reduce catch of juvenile whiting in Cultivator Shoals by increasing the minimum mesh size from 2.5” to 3” for that area.

1995 - Framework Adjustment 9 (FR Notice) established Small-Mesh Areas 1 and 2 and their seasons. 

1996 – Modified Amendment 7 to allow additional bycatch in Cultivator Shoals.

2000 - Amendment 12 (FR Notice) established essential fish habitat (EFH) designations, differential possession limits based on mesh size, a transfer-at-sea provision, year 4 default measures, and included offshore hake into the NE Multispecies FMP.   

2000 - Framework Adjustment 35 established the Cape Cod Bay Raised Footrope Trawl area and season.

2002 - Modifications to Amendment 12 delayed year 4 default measures.

2002 - Modification to Framework 35 modified boundaries and season of Cape Cod Bay Raised Footrope Trawl Area, added another area East of Cape Cod, and adjusted area seasons.

2003 - Framework Adjustment 37 (FR Notice) eliminated the year 4 default measures, adjusted area seasons, possession limits and species allowed for retention, and clarified the transfer-at-sea provisions.  

2003 - Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FR Notice) established new small-mesh multispecies control date of March 25, 2003.

2003 - Framework Adjustment 38 (FR Notice) established Inshore GOM Whiting Exemption Area, required grate raised footrope trawl, and adjusted area possession limits, species for retention, and seasons.

2006 - Amendment 14 scoping measures included for consideration included:  Limited entry for commercial vessels, hard total allowable catch (TAC), dedicated access privileges, and recreational measures.

2006 – Advanced notice of proposed rulemaking reaffirmed March 25, 2003, control date.

2012Secretarial Amendment (FR Notice) to establish annual catch limits and accountability measures for the small-mesh multispecies fishery.

What are the primary markets for the whiting fishery?  There is little to no separation of silver and offshore species in the market, and both are generally sold under the name “whiting.”  Whiting are sold filleted, whole, and smoked.  Red hake, which is a larger fish than whiting, is usually sold filleted.  The small-mesh multispecies are also often sold for bait.

What are the recent landings and value of the commercial fishery?  In 2010, the red hake average price was $0.39/lb.  Also in 2010, the fishery landed 1.3 million pounds worth $5.2 thousand.  Also in 2010, the silver hake (including offshore) average price was $0.62/lb.  The fishery landed 17.6 million pounds of silver hake worth $10.8 million.

What are the top whiting landing ports (2010)?  The top five ports according to quantity of whiting landed, in descending order, are Gloucester, MA, Provincetown, MA, Point Judith, RI, Montauk, NY, and New Bedford, MA. 

Northeast Fisheries Science Center Stock Assessments – click here.

Scientific information - 2013



Overfishing Definition


Overfished Definition

Rebuilding Program Progress


Fishing Mortality Rate (F)

B/BMSY or B/BMSY Proxy


Northern Silver Hake (Whiting)


Overfishing occurs when the ratio between the catch and the arithmetic fall survey biomass index from the most recent three years exceeds the overfishing threshold


Silver hake is overfished when the three-year moving average of the fall survey weight per tow (i.e. the biomass threshold) is less than one half the BMSY proxy, where the BMSY proxy is defined as the average observed from 1973-1982

No rebuilding plan is in place


0.17 kt/kg



Southern Silver Hake



No rebuilding plan is in place


4.72 kt/kg



Offshore Hake





No rebuilding plan is in place





Northern Red Hake


Overfishing occurs when the ratio between catch and spring survey biomass for the northern and the southern stocks exceeds 0.163 kt/kg and 3.038 kt/kg, respectively, derived from AIM analyses from 1980-2009


Red hake is overfished when the three-year moving arithmetic average of the spring survey weight per tow (i.e., the biomass threshold) is less than one half of the BMSY proxy, where the BMSY proxy is defined as the average observed from 1980 – 2010

No rebuilding plan is in place


0.15 kt/kg



Southern Red Hake



No rebuilding plan is in place


1.29 kt/kg



Other stock status information:  The 2010 stock assessment concluded that information was not available to determine stock status for offshore hake because fishery data were insufficient and the survey data were not considered to reflect stock trends.  Thus, there are no reference points for offshore hake and the overfished and overfishing status of offshore hake is unknown.

Most Recent Environmental Impact Statement:  Amendment 12 in 2000

Most Recent Biological Opinion:   Under development  

Most Recent Stock Assessment:  SAW 51 in 2012

Next Stock Assessment:  Not yet scheduled

Quota Monitoring

* Note that the Southern Whiting = Southern Silver Hake + Offshore Hake. There is not enough scientific information to produce catch limits for offshore hake, which are most often landed mixed with southern silver hake. Therefore, the southern silver hake ABC is increased by 4 percent to account for offshore hake.

Research Set-Aside: Not applicable

What if specifications are not in place at the start of the fishing year? Existing specifications roll over

Are there in-season adjustments (changes mid-fishing year) in this fishery? See the accountability measures section below.

Accountability Measures:

In-season: If 90 percent of a TAL is projected to be harvested, the possession limit for that stock would decrease to 400 lb for red hake or 2,000 lb for silver hake.

Post-season: If an ACL is exceeded, a pound-for-pound overage would be deducted for a subsequent year’s ACL.

Permit categories:  Vessels fishing for whiting in an exemption program must possess either an open access (Category K) or limited access (Categories A-F) NE multispecies permit.  If the vessel has a limited access NE multispecies permit, fishing for whiting may be done while the vessel is not fishing under a day-at-sea (DAS) and while declared out of the fishery (DOF), if the vessel is required to operate a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS).  Possession limits are based upon area being fished, not the permit type. 

Control Date: 3/25/2003

Number of permits in the fishery:  In 2013 there were 2,225 Northeast multispecies permits issued that are capable of participating in the whiting fishery.  However, the number of active participants is significantly lower. 

Commercial Operator Permit:  Operator cards are required for any operator of a charter/party boat or a commercial vessel (including carrier and processor vessels) issued a vessel permit from the Greater Atlantic Region and fishing for or in possession of fish.

Commercial Dealer/Processor Permit:  Whiting may be sold only to persons possessing a valid Federal tilefish dealer permit. 

How to obtain a Federal fishing permit:   Anyone with a valid vessel operator’s permit can obtain a Federal commercial whiting permit by submitting a permit application and supporting documentation to the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Permit Division.  More information can be found here.

Recreational anglers will need to get a general recreational fishing license either through your state or through us to fish recreationally for marine species.  More information can be found here.  General information on all recreational fishing in our region can be found here.

Possession Limits and Fish Size Requirements

Possession Limits:  Possession limits vary depending upon exemption area being fished.  Please see the ‘Exempted Fisheries’ tab in the section for trip limits.   

Fish size Limits:  There are no size limits for the small-mesh multispecies complex (red hake, silver hake (whiting), and offshore hake).

               Minimum fish size:  None

               Maximum fish size:  None

Gear Requirements

The gear requirements for this fishery depend upon the exempted fishery area being fished.  However, there are standardized requirements for the raised footrope trawl that are required for four of the exempted fisheries (Raised Footrope Trawl Exempted Whiting Fishery (GOM or adjacent to Cape Cod) and Small-Mesh Areas 1 and 2).  Please see the ‘Exempted Fisheries’ tab for more information on gear requirements.

The trawl gear must be configured in such a way that, when towed, the footrope is not in contact with the ocean bottom.  Vessels are presumed to be fishing in such a manner if their trawl gear is designed as specified below.


  • Floats with a minimum diameter of 8 inches must be attached along the entire length of the headrope with a maximum spacing of 4 feet between each float.

Ground Gear

  • Ground gear must be all bare wire, not larger than 1/2 inch in diameter for the top leg, not larger than 5/8 inch in diameter for the bottom leg, and not larger than 3/4 inch in diameter for the ground cables.
  • The top legs must be equal with bottom legs, with no extensions.
  • The total length of the ground cables must not be greater than 40 fathoms from the doors to the wing ends.


  • The footrope must be longer than the headrope, but not more than 20 feet longer than the headrope, and must be rigged so that it does not contact the bottom while fishing.

Drop Chains

  • Drop chains must be used with or without a chain sweep.
  • Drop chains must be 42 inches in length or greater.
  • The maximum size drop chain stock when used with a sweep is 5/16 inch.  Drop chains may be a maximum of 3/8-inch stock when no sweep is used.
  • Only bare chain may be used; cookies or additional weights on the drop chains are prohibited.
  • Drop chains must be hung from the center of the footrope and each corner (the quarter, or the junction of the bottom wing to the belly at the footrope).
  • Drop chains must be hung at 8-foot intervals along the footrope from the corners to the wing ends.

Sweep Specifications and Optional Sweepless Trawl

  • The raised footrope trawl may be used with or without a chain sweep.  The sweep, if used, must be rigged in the following manner:
  • The sweep must be bare chain, the same length as the footrope.  (Note: The required drop chains at the wing ends of the footrope effectively make the sweep 7 feet longer than the footrope.)
  • The maximum size of the sweep is 5/16-inch stock chain.
  • The sweep must be attached to the ends of the drop chains.
  • The center of the sweep must be attached to the drop chain from the center of the footrope.
  • The attachment points of each drop chain on the sweep and the footrope must be the same distance from the center drop chain attachments.
  • The ends of the sweep must be attached to the drop chains at the end of the footrope.

Administrative Information

Vessels fishing in the Cultivator Shoal, Raised Footrope Trawl, or the Southern New England Exemption areas that are transiting through the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank Regulated Mesh Area (RMA) with nets with mesh smaller than the minimum mesh size and small mesh exempted species aboard must obtain the GOM/GB RMA Transiting Letter of Authorization by contacting the Greater Atlantic Region Permit Office at (978) 281-9370. 

Vessels fishing for whiting with small-mesh in the Raised Footrope Trawl Whiting Exempted Fishery Areas must carry a Letter of Authorization issued by the Regional Administrator, valid for a minimum of 7 days.  Participating vessels may withdraw from the program no earlier than 7 days from the date of enrollment.  Letters of authorization, and withdrawals, may be obtained from the Greater Atlantic Region Permit Office at (978) 281-9370.

Note:  Vessels participating in the Raised Footrope Trawl Whiting Fishery may participate in other small-mesh exemption areas provided they adhere to the more restrictive gear, possession, and other requirements for the entire participation period specified in the letter of authorization

Regulated, Closed, and Access Areas

There are no closed areas specific to the whiting fishery, but the whiting fishing may only occur within specified areas.  Please see the ‘Exempted Fisheries’ tab for more information.

Vessels fishing in the Raised Footrope Trawl Whiting Exempted Fishery are not held to the overlapping portion of the Gulf of Maine Rolling Closure Area V during October and November while participating in the Raised Footrope Trawl Exempted Whiting Fishery provided the vessel adheres to all the requirements of the exempted fishery. 

Days-At-Sea (DAS) Requirements

The whiting fishery is not managed by a DAS system.  Please see the ‘Fishery Quota’ and ‘Trip Limit’ section of this webpage for more information on effort control in the whiting fishery. 

Exempted Fisheries

Exempted fisheries allow fishing vessels to fish for specific species without being subject to certain Northeast multispecies regulations, including days-at-sea, provided the bycatch of regulated species is minimal. To be approved and implemented, exemption programs must have demonstrated that incidental catch of NE multispecies is less than 5 percent of the total catch, by weight, and that the exemption will not jeopardize fishing mortality objectives.

How to Request Fishery Exemptions

An exempted fishery may be added, deleted, or modified pursuant to the procedure described below:

  1. Applicants must submit a written request to the Regional Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930-2298. The request should describe the area in which the fishery would operate, the period in which it would operate, the gear it would use, the approximate number of vessels likely to participate, and the species it would target, retain, and land.
  2. Those proposing that a fishery should be exempt should describe the fishery and present all information possible that helps determine that the fishery meets the bycatch standard. The Regional Administrator will investigate NMFS data sources, but proposals for exemptions should be complete and clear to facilitate the process. State agencies and universities, for example, may have additional data available and applicants may contact them for assistance.
  3. When a request for an exempted fishery is submitted, the request and any accompanying data are reviewed by the Regional Administrator to determine whether such a fishery would meet the exemption qualifying criteria.  The Regional Administrator will also consult with the New England Fishery Management Council on any exemptions requested. This process may take several months to complete.

Please see the Northeast multispecies small mesh fishery exemptions information sheet for a comprehensive description of the exempted fisheries within our region.

Protected Resource and Marine Mammal Regulations

All Gear Types

It is illegal to harvest or possess protected species unless otherwise specified under the regulations implementing the Endangered Species Act or Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Please see links below for more information or contact NMFS, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Protected Resources Division at (978) 281-9328.

Protected Fish Species

Marine Mammals

Sea Turtles

Gear Requirements for Specific Gear Types


Marine Mammals

Sea Turtles


Marine Mammals

Sea Turtles

Handling and Resuscitation Requirements
There are currently no recreational possession, size, or gear restrictions for whiting caught in Federal waters.  There are also no specific areas for the recreational fishery.  See the ‘Regulated, Closed, and Access Areas’ section under the ‘Rules and Regulations’ section of the website.  

Commercial Reporting

VMS Requirements:  There are no specific VMS requirements for vessels fishing in an exempted fishery for small-mesh multispecies.  If a vessel has VMS requirements because of other permits held by the vessel, the vessel must declare DOF on their VMS unit when fishing for small-mesh multispecies within an exempted fishery.   If a vessel has VMS requirements because of other permits held by the vessel, the vessel should declare DOF or another appropriate code depending on the other permits on the vessel and other species that may be landed on that trip.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) System Requirements:   There are no IVR requirements for the small-mesh multispecies fishery.

Observer Requirements:   There are no observer requirements for the small-mesh multispecies fishery.

Catch Reporting and Vessel Trip Reports (VTR):  VTRs must be maintained on board the vessel and submitted to NMFS for all fishing trips, for regardless of species retained.  Instructions for completing the VTR can be found here.  VTRs must be submitted monthly by Tuesday of the week after the fishing trip ends.  Copies of VTRs must be retained on board the vessel for 1 year after the date of the last entry on the log and otherwise retained for 3 years after the date of the last entry on the log.

If no fishing activity took place during a reporting period, then a VTR must be submitted stating that no fishing trips were taken (referred to as a ‘Did Not Fish’ (DNF) VTR).  DNF VTRs may be submitted electronically online in place of paper VTRs.  DNF VTRs can be submitted electronically up to 3 months in advance on the “Fish-On-Line” website.

Charter/Party and Recreational Reporting

Reporting is not required for the recreational fishery, but the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) is a system of voluntary coordinated data collection programs designed to estimate recreational catch and effort.