Pacific Whiting

Pacific whiting

About The Species

U.S. wild-caught Pacific whiting is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population Level

Above target population levels.

Fishing Status

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impact

Mid-water trawls used to harvest Pacific whiting have minimal impact on habitat.

Bycatch

Bycatch is low because mid-water trawls target schools of whiting.

Status

  • There are three stocks of Pacific whiting: a highly migratory coastal stock, a central-south Puget Sound stock, and a Strait of Georgia stock.
  • According to the 2016 stock assessment, the coastal stock of Pacific whiting is not overfished, and is not subject to overfishing based on 2014 catch data.
  • The Puget Sound and Strait of Georgia stocks are considered species of concern.  There has been no directed commercial fishery for these stocks since 1991. 
Appearance
  • Pacific whiting is a round fish.
  • They are silvery in color with black speckles on the back and black inside the mouth. 
Behavior and Diet
  • Pacific whiting grow fast, up to 3 feet in length, and can live up to 15 years.
  • They migrate seasonally and are found offshore in southern waters where they spawn in the winter. 
  • In the spring, they travel nearshore and to the north to feed along the continental shelf and slope from northern California to Vancouver Island.
  • In the summer, they form large schools along the continental shelf break. In years with warmer water temperatures, whiting tend to move farther north during the summer. Older whiting tend to migrate farther than younger fish.
  • Female whiting are able to reproduce when they reach 3 to 4 years old (13 to 16 inches long). Males mature by 3 years of age (11 inches long). 
  • They spawn from January through March off south-central California. 
  • Females release their eggs, which are fertilized externally. Eggs hatch in 5 to 6 days.
  • They feed on shrimp and pelagic schooling fish, such as eulachon and Pacific herring. As whiting grow larger, fish make up a larger part of their diet.
  • Many fish-eating species, such as lingcod and Humboldt squid, prey on Pacific whiting. Sablefish, albacore, pollock, Pacific cod, rockfish, sharks, and marine mammals also feed on Pacific whiting.
Location Description

Pacific whiting is found off the West Coast from Southern Baja California and the Gulf of California to the Gulf of Alaska.

Management
  • The coastal stock of Pacific whiting is managed through the bilateral Pacific Whiting Treaty agreement between the United States and Canada.
    • The agreement allocates a harvest quota to American and Canadian fishermen. Currently, the United States harvests nearly 74 percent of the annual quota and Canada the remaining 26 percent.
  • NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the Pacific whiting fishery on the West Coast, in federal waters (3 to 200 miles offshore).
  • Managed under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:
    • Permits and limited entry to the fishery.
    • Limits on the minimum size of fish that may be harvested.
    • Certain seasons and areas are closed to fishing.
    • Gear restrictions help reduce bycatch and impacts on habitat.
    • Managers use annual harvest quotas to regulate the coastwide catch of whiting.
    • There are several sectors of the U.S. whiting fishery, and managers divide allowable catch among them. Sectors include:
      • Non-tribal catcher boats delivering to shore-based processing facilities.
      • Non-tribal catcher boats delivering to at-sea mothership processors.
      • Non-tribal vessels that both catch and process the catch at sea. 
      • Tribal harvesters.
    • The shore-based trawl fishery, which includes vessels targeting Pacific whiting, is managed under the trawl rationalization catch share program that includes:
      • Catch limits based on the population status of each fish stock and divided into shares that are allocated to individual fishermen or groups.
      • Provisions that allow fishermen to decide how and when to catch their share.
      • Total catch accounting and 100 percent observer coverage.
  • The Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative was established in 1997 by fishing companies owning trawlers in the mothership and catcher/processor sectors of the fishery.
    • They allocate their catch quota among cooperative members to allow them to use the quota more efficiently. The result is a less wasteful, more environmentally friendly fishery that produces a higher quality product.