Whitefish

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Processing cod
© Tatjana Gerling WWF
WWF´s work focuses on whitefish species in important places such as the Arctic, the Southern Oceans, Southern Chile and European waters. We collaborate with governments and engage the whitefish supply chain to transform whitefish fisheries into a sustainable, socially and economically viable business.

© Vielmo&Dott/WWF Germany © Vielmo&Dott/WWF Germany © Vielmo&Dott/WWF Germany © Bruno Arnold/WWF Canon © Erling Svensen/WWF Canon © Erling Svensen WWF Canon © Erling Svensen/WWF Canon © Rudolf Svenson/WWF Canon

WWF priority whitefish species

  • pollock/saithe (Pollachius spp., Theragra spp.)
  • haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus, Sebastes spp.)
  • hoki (blue grenadier; Macruronus novaezelandiae)
  • hake (Merluccius spp., Urophycis spp.)
  • cod (Gadus spp.)
  • redfish (Sebastes spp.)
  • whiting (Merluccius bilinearis; Micromesistius australis; Sillago spp.)
  • toothfish (Dissostichus spp.)
  • roughies (family Trachichthyidae)

What´s the problem with whitefish?

Most commercially important whitefish stocks are overexploited. Some species are classified as vulnerable or even endangered. They are predicted to completely disappear over the next 15 years (e.g. cod) if fishing continues "business as usual". 

Illegal or pirate fishing is one of the biggest problems that causes overfishing.
 
Unsustainable fishing practices such as bottom trawling also threaten several other endangered species that are not targeted in the first place (i.e. bycatch) and damage vulnerable deep-water marine ecosystems, for example. Poor fisheries management is the root cause which often lacks an  "ecosystem based management" (EBM)  approach that enables to sustain healthy marine biodiversity and fisheries.

The whitefish market 

"Frozen fillets and fish sticks" 

Whitefish species have a high commercial value. Most of them are caught in the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. The Indian and Southern oceans share the remaining 1% of global whitefish catch. Large-scale commercial vessels trawl the ocean seafloor in search for cod, hake, hoki or haddock.

Their flesh is sold as frozen fillets or processed fish products such as fish sticks or burger patties used for the fast food restaurants and retail. One of the main processing countries of whitefish is China. Whilst whitefish is mainly consumed in Europe and North America, Japan and China are also important markets for processed food such as "surimi" (e.g. 'crab sticks').

The most important commercial whitefish fishing nations are the USA, Russia, Chile, Argentina, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Norway, New Zealand and Australia. Also European fishing vessels play an important role, they catch whitefish species either for fresh consumption or as frozen fish fingers or fillets.

 / ©: Rudolf Svenson/WWF Canon
Common Hake, Stavanger, Norway
© Rudolf Svenson/WWF Canon

Fact sheet Hakes

The latest facts and figures regarding the status of the hake species; conservation, management measures and market challenges and solutions to keep hake species in a healthy state.
 / ©: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Alaska pollock or walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma)
© US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Fact sheet Alaska Pollock

The latest facts and figures regarding the status of the Alaska pollock; conservation, management measures and market challenges and solutions to keep pollock species in a healthy state.

What WWF is doing

WWF is deeply concerned that without significant changes in policy and trade, unsustainable fishing of whitefish species will continue to pose a major threat to the ocean´s marine ecosystem. Fishing should be conducted in a way that doesn´t lead to overfishing or harms our marine ecosystem. It also needs to  respect the environmental, social, economic and cultural heritage and wellbeing of fishermen and local communities who depend on fishing for their income. 

WWF works in close collaboration with partners to ensure that whitefish stocks are harvested in a way that doesn´t put further pressure on our marine ecosystems.

Good management and governance 

WWF constructively advocates with governments and regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) for stricter regulations and better fisheries management that involves reducing bycatch and discard practices by using sustainable fishing gear. We also ask for more transparency on the seas which can be obtained through better monitoring, efficient control systems and port state measures. 

Find out about WWF´s Smart Fishing approach

Promoting responsible procurement and trade

WWF promotes responsible fisheries and trade practices across the whole seafood sector through credible certification systems such as the Marine Stewardship Council programme.

Today, over 35% of the global commodity supply of whitefish is MSC certified, or in process of certification. Several major whitefish fisheries in the North Atlantic and North Pacific are under MSC assessment.  

WWF would like to see 75% of priority whitefish species either MSC certified or seeking certification by 2015. Moreover, populations including Alaska pollock, cod, hoki, orange roughy tootfish and hake should be harvested without destroying our marine biodiversity and become part of a management plan that protects vulnerable marine ecosystems.

Find out more about WWF´s Smart Fishing approach.
 / ©: Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) photo stock
Bucket with MSC-certified products
© Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) photo stock

The Southern Cone Alliance (SCA)

 / ©: WWF Canon
Overfishing
© WWF Canon
In 2012, WWF established a new initiative to safeguard the precious oceans of South America. The Southern Cone (SC) is a marine ecosystem area of over 5.6 million km², encompassing three oceans -  the Southeastern Pacific, the Southwestern Atlantic and the Southern Ocean together extending to more than 91.000 kilometers of coastline. It is home to extraordinary species and plants such as sea turtles, whales, sharks and cold-water corals. 

Three important fisheries - forage fish, whitefish and farmed salmon - bring about an important part of the global seafood production but they are heavily overexploited. The impact of unsustainable fishing goes beyond overfishing of these species and contributes to the loss of other species like dolphins, fur seals, sea turtles, petrels, penguins and albatrosses. 

Through the SCA, WWF is working with its local offices (WWF Chile, Peru and Argentina) and partners to keep this beautiful ecosystem in balance and drive sustainable fishing practices. One way of doing this is through promoting certification of fisheries according to Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards, or in the case of farmed salmon, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) standards). We also advocate with governments and Regional Fisheries Organisations (RFMOs) for stricter and more efficient fisherie management in the Southern Cone, to advance marine spatial planning and create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

The Southern Cone Alliance (SCA)

Did you know that...

  •  
    • 50% of the total global whitefish is caught in the Atlantic Ocean (FAO, 2011)
    • 93% of cod fished in the North Sea is caught before it reaches the age of sexual maturity
    • The Indian and Southern Oceans share the remaining 1% of the total whitefish catch. 
    • Global whitefish catch accounted for over 10% of total marine capture in 2004 (FAO, 2011)
    • The Atlantic cod is one of the most overexploited whitefish species

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