Cape Hake | Sustainable Fishing | Protecting the Cape Hake | Sea Harvest : Sea Harvest


Date Posted: 26 June 2017

Cape Hake

Responsible Trawling for Cape Hake

Cape hake, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa, is one of the only species of hake in the world that is not overfished, mainly because of the responsible fishing practices followed by the commercial fisheries in the southern African fishing waters.

Regulations, such as total allowable catches, are adhered to, in addition to not trawling for Cape hake in waters that have previously not been trawled in, in order to avoid the increased effect on the habitat of non-hake marine species. Regulations and measures have been put in place to minimise the capturing of non-hake species, which could be the food of other marine species and seabirds.


Cape hake is normally found in the ocean at depths of up to 1 000 metres, and also in the shallow waters of the continental ridge, mostly in the south-east Atlantic Ocean. It is a white fish that grows slow and reaches an age of 13-14 years in the wild. The juvenile Merluccius capensis is prey to the Merluccius paradoxus, which is a deep-water species. Both the Merluccius capensis and the Merluccius paradoxus migrate north in the autumn, and south in the spring season. The eggs are fertilised in the deeper waters, whereafter the eggs float upwards to the surface. Here the larvae develop and eventually swim in the water nearer to the surface. The baby hake fish, when a bit older, live at the bottom of the ocean.

Interesting to note – Cape Hake move between the bottom of the sea to the upper water daily. They live near the bottom during the day and migrate to the surface water at night, where they feed on plankton and fish. The commercial trawlers catch the fish at the bottom during the daytime.

Offshore trawling entails the capturing of deep-water hake, while in-shore trawling entails the capturing of hake around the Agulhas Bank.

How and Where Trawling Takes Place

The inshore trawling mostly takes place along the south coast of South Africa in the shallow waters, while the deep-sea trawling takes place on the shelf edge of the deeper waters from Namibia towards the south coast.  Trawling accounts for the majority of hake catches, while long lines, in addition to hand lines, are also used in the inshore fishing sector.

Management of Fishing

The Cape hake stock is managed according to a system that restricts the maximum allowable catches known as Total Allowable Catches or TACs, in addition to the application of quotas. The Fisheries Management branch of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries oversees the quota and TAC system management. Testimony to the commitment of the South African government and commercial fishing companies, the South African fishery management received Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in 2004, and re-certification in 2010.

To minimise the effect of trawling on other fish and bird species, a Deep Sea Bycatch Management Plan is in place, which includes limiting the catch total, and also regulating when trawling can take place. One of the methods introduced to limit the impact of trawling on seabirds is the Tori line. It is a line that has streamers which are used to scare off birds during the hauling of nets. Night netting has been made visible to further reduce the effect of trawling on seabirds at night. A Vessel Monitoring System is also in place to monitor compliance with ring fencing and related trawling restrictions in certain areas, to reduce the impact on marine habitats in the relevant areas. Larger mesh sizes are used today, in order to limit by-catches, and thus to reduce the impact of Cape hake catching on other marine species.


Cape hake is exceptionally popular as a protein source in South Africa. Well over 310 million kilogrammes of fish are consumed every year in the country, with about half of the fish being caught locally. The overall South African fishing industry employs more than 26 000 people, with the industry also being one of the main contributors to the country’s GDP. Over 140 000 tonnes of Cape hake are caught every year, with deep-sea trawling directly providing employment to over 7 000 people.

Buying Cape hake thus means supporting the local economy, and consumers also have the assurance of supporting an industry focused on the responsible management and usage of marine resources. Various initiatives are in place to ensure that future generations of South Africans will also be able to benefit from our marine resources.