The Cape Hakes

The Cape Hakes

Cape hake is renowned the world over for its delicate taste, white flesh and firm texture.

Two species of hake are found in South African waters: the shallow-water Cape hake Merluccius capensis and the deep-water hake Merluccius paradoxus. Both species are referred to as “demersal fish” because they generally live and feed on or near the seabed (the demersal zone).

As their names suggest, the two species live at different depths: shallow-water hake have been recorded from close inshore (30m) to about 500m, with most of the population living between 100 and 300m, while deep-water hake range from depths of 110 to 1 000m, with most of the stock located between 200 and 800m. Both species increase in size the further offshore and the deeper they live and so large shallow-water hake co-exist with (and feed extensively on) smaller deep-water hake.

On the west coast, the continental shelf is narrow and most trawling is in deep water; as a result, catches are dominated by deep-water hake. In contrast, most trawling on the south coast is on the wide continental shelf (the Agulhas Bank) and shallow-water hake tends to dominate, accounting for as much as 70% of hake catches.

Although the two species are distinct, they are usually caught, processed and sold under the collective name of “Cape hake”, “Cape capensis” or “Cape haddie”.

More about the Cape hakes:

Status of the stocks

Stocks of both deep water hake (Merluccius paradoxus) and shallow water hake (Merluccius capensis) are considered to be “above maximum sustainable yield”. This means the growth of the stock is in balance with fishing activity and current catch levels are sustainable over time.

The total allowable catch (TAC) for hake for 2023 is 138 760 tons – 5 percent higher than in 2022 – and the TAC for 2024 is likely to be the same. The upward trend in the TAC is the result of indications from stock assessments and commercial and survey data that the resource can sustain higher catches.
Precautionary upper catch limits for the important bycatch species of monk and kingklip are 7 780 tons and 4 047 tons, respectively.

Catch rates for horse mackerel (maasbanker) have been positive in recent years and management options reflect an increase in optimism about resource status. The directed midwater horse mackerel TAC for 2023 was set at 27 670 tons, and the demersal trawl bycatch reserve was set at 12 397 tons.

For more information read the Status of South African Marine Fishery Resources.

The hake fisheries

The deep-sea trawl fishery

The deep-sea trawl fishery operates on well established trawl grounds around the South African coast, extending from the Namibian border on the west coast to the extreme eastern part of the Agulhas Bank near Port Elizabeth. Exploitation is predominantly in 300 to 800m water depth and waters shallower than 200m on the south coast.

The fleet consists of 30 fresh fish trawlers (commonly called “wetfish” trawlers) with an average length of 45 m and an average tonnage of 600 tons; plus 21 freezer trawlers ranging in length from 30 to 90m and from 300 to 2 900 tons.

Otter trawling is the main method of fishing. With this method, a large net is towed behind the trawler, with the mouth of the net being held open by two large doors (hydroplanes) which are attached to either side of the net. Thick steel cables, called trawl warps, are used to tow the net. Once the back of the net (called the “cod end” or the “bag”) is filled with fish, the net is hauled back on board the vessel and emptied into the fish factory. Fish workers clean the catch and, on wetfish vessels, store the fish on ice for processing on land. On freezer trawlers, however, the catch is cleaned, processed and frozen at sea.

The inshore trawl fishery

The inshore trawl fishery is the “little brother” of the deep-sea trawl fishery and targets the Cape hakes as well as Agulhas sole (Austroglossus pectoralis). It catches approximately 6% of the global TAC for hake (about 9 000 tons per year).

Approximately 30 trawlers participate in the fishery which operates on the south coast between Cape Agulhas and Port Elizabeth. The vessels are smaller and less powerful than those used in the deep-sea trawl fishery; they range in length from 14 to 36m and engine size is restricted to 1 000hp. Modern stern trawlers, as well as much older side trawlers, form part of the fishing fleet. The fishery targets shallow water hake and sole, but catches display a much higher species mix than those of the deep-sea trawl fishery.

The hake longline fishery
The hake longline fishery uses a bottom set double line system with hooks spaced about 1.5m apart and as many as 20 000 baited hooks extending at least 10km along the seafloor. This gear arrangement targets both species of hake, and there is a small bycatch of other demersal species.
The hake handline fishery

The hake handline fishery grew rapidly in the early 2000s in response to strong demand from Europe for prime quality (PQ) fresh hake. Fishers use baited hooks attached to a handline, or a fishing rod fitted with a simple reel to target hake. Fishing is from small (5 to 6m) ski-boats that are towed to slipways closest to the areas where the best hake catches are being made. At the fishery’s peak, hake handline fishers ranged between Stillbaai on the south coast, to Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape. However, the global economic crisis of 2008 hit the handline fishery hard and participation in the fishery has reduced considerably.

South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) & Cookie Consent

We will not sell, share, or rent your Personal Information to any third party or use your email address for unsolicited mail. Any emails sent by us will only be in connection with the provision of our services and/or the marketing thereof. We use cookies on our website to give you the most relevant experience by remembering your preferences and repeat visits. By continuing in the website you accept the use of cookies.