Haddock

Haddock
  • Scientific name: Melanogrammus aeglefinus
  • Size: Up to 4ft in length and 25lbs.
  • UK minimum size: 14ins/35cm
  • UK shore caught record: 6lb 12oz
  • IUCN Status: VU (Vulnerable)
  • Distribution: Found on both sides of the Atlantic but more common on the European side. Relatively deep water fish that is rarely found in water of less than fifty metres. In UK waters located more towards the north of the British Isles.
  • Feeds on: Much more selective feeder than the closely related cod. Generally takes shellfish and worms, with only bigger specimens hunting other fish.
  • Description: Like all members of the cod family the haddock has three dorsal fins, the first of which is triangular. Distinctive black mark near to the pectoral fin which is known as the thumb print. Silvery grey/brown back fading to a cream/pale underbelly. Mouth smaller and lower set than in the cod. Lateral line is black and curves slightly upwards. Tail only slightly forked.
  • Additional notes: Several other species are informally referred to as types of haddock. Opah is nicknamed Jerusalem Haddock, Pouting is nicknamed Scotch haddock in some parts of the UK, and there is a separate, unrelated species called Rose Fish which is sometimes known as Norway haddock. However, none of these species are related to the fish featured on this page.

Haddock are a shoaling species which favours deep, cold water. Most fully grown haddock will stay clear of shallow waters, although smaller immature haddock and the odd sizeable specimen can sometimes come quite close to the shore. Haddock are a fish of considerable commercial value and is one of the most commonly eaten fish in the UK. This has led to intense pressure on haddock stocks and an uncertain long-term future for this species.

Distribution

There are separate stocks of European and North American haddock which do not intermix. Haddock in Europe are found in the colder waters of the North Sea, Baltic Sea and Barents Sea, and off the coasts of Iceland and Greenland. They are found further south in Europe off the Atlantic coasts of France, Spain and Portugal, although their preference for colder water means that they are found in smaller numbers in these locations and they are absent from the warmer waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the coasts of the African Continent. North American haddock stocks are primarily located around the coast of New England, although they can be found southwards as far as the coast of New Jersey. In Canadian waters they are found mainly around Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Feeding and Reproduction

Haddock are demersal fish, meaning they live and feed on and around the seabed. However, the haddock is much more selective about what it eats than the cod, with small invertebrates, shellfish, worms and crabs making up the majority of its diet. They may occasionally hunt small fish such as sandeels and sprats, but this is not thought to be a major part of their diet. Haddock in European waters move to the seas around Iceland and Norway to breed in the spring, while populations around North America spawn in the Gulf of Maine. Millions of eggs are released and float on the surface of the water where they will hatch in around ten days to two weeks. The larvae live in the upper surface of the sea for a few weeks before moving down to the seabed to feed there. A young haddock can be six inches in length by the end of its first year of life.

Commercial Value

Kedgeree

Kedgeree is an Indian dish, popular in Britain since the 1800s, and is most commonly made with haddock.

Like cod haddock are a very important commercial species, being a premium whitefish and one of the ‘Big Five’ species (along with cod, tuna, prawns and salmon) which make up 60% of all seafood consumed in Britain. Haddock are sold as whole fish on wet fish counters, and also as frozen or chilled fillets and also smoked, dried and canned. Like cod the haddock is a whitefish – meaning that its flesh forms into delicate, mild white flakes when it is cooked. However, smoked haddock is often dyed a yellow colour prior to being sold, leading to some people thinking that haddock have yellow flesh. The town of Grimsby in Lincolnshire, England is famous for its smoked haddock industry which still continues today, and the British/Indian dish of kedgeree is most often made with haddock.

Processing haddock in 1899

Haddock have long been a commercially important species. This photograph shows commercially caught haddock being processed in 1899.

Due to their high commercial value and their status current stock levels of haddock are under immense pressure. Haddock are currently classed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and have been added to Greenpeace’s Redlist of fish that are at high risk of being sourced from unsustainable fisheries. The outlook for this species is uncertain if commercial harvesting continues at current levels.

Methods and Techniques to Catch Haddock

The haddock’s preference of deeper water, and the fact that it is a fairly selective feeder (certainly when compared to the cod) explains why it is a relatively rare catch for shore-based sea anglers.The British shore caught record stands at 6lb 12oz and was caught by G. Stevenson at Loch Goil, Argyll and Bute, Scotland and has stood since 1976. The boat caught record is a fish of 13lb 11oz which was caught off the Cornish coast in 1978 by G. Bones.

Boat caught haddock

Due to their deeper water habitat haddock are more likely to be caught by boat anglers.

Those that are caught usually go to anglers targeting cod with worm or shellfish baits, or a combination of the two. To be in with the best chance of catching a haddock the deepest water possible should be sought with areas around the north east of England and north and west Scotland offering the best chance of catching this species. However, other species such as cod and whiting are likely to dominate catches, meaning that anglers may have to put in a huge amount of time before they can tick a shoe caught haddock off their species list.

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