• Scientific name: Merluccius merluccius
  • Also know as: European Hake, Herring Hake
  • Size: Up to 4ft in length and 30 – 35lbs
  • UK minimum size: 12ins/30cm
  • UK shore caught record: 3lb 8oz
  • IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)
  • Distribution: Found in deeper offshore waters around Northern Europe.
  • Feeds on: Other smaller fish such as herring, pouting and codling.
  • Description: Long cylindrical body with a large head and mouth. Prominent triangular first dorsal fin and very long second dorsal fin and anal fin. The tail fin has a straight rear edge. The body is silvery grey, sometimes with a green/brown gleam, and the underside is pale. Noticeable, straight, black lateral line.

Hake is a deep-sea fish, explaining why it is rarely caught by shore anglers, a fact highlighted by the shore caught record for hake being only 3lb 8oz, while the boat caught record is in excess of 25lb and the IGFA world record more than 30lb. Indeed, hake favour water which is at least one hundred metres deep, and can be found at depths down to several hundred metres. Hake are unfussy, active predators, feeding on any small fish they can catch. They will happily eat mackerel, herring (hence the alternative name of herring hake), pouting, sandeels, squid or any other fish they come across and they are not averse to hunting down smaller members of their own species.


Hake distribution
Hake distribution

Hake are widely distributed throughout the waters of Europe. They are found in the colder waters of the North Sea, Baltic Sea and Norwegian Sea, and in the North Atlantic from Iceland to the coasts of Portugal and Spain. They are also present in the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

Solved Mystery of Catching Hake

In the 1960s and 1970s it was something of a mystery why anglers on charter boats failed to catch hake during the day when other species were being caught regularly. Commercial trawling soon revealed that bottom trawling produced good catches during daylight but not at night, the converse was true of mid-water trawling. It was eventually established that hake stay on the seabed during daylight, feeding little, and move into mid-water to feed during darkness.

Confusion with Other Species

Hake are similar in appearance to both ling and tusk, and all three of these species live in the same deeper offshore waters around the British Isles. For a detailed guide to distinguishing between these three species click here.

Commercial Value of Hake

Commercially caught hake
Commercially caught hake on sale at a fish market in Spain.

Hake is now a commercially important fish. Once cooked it has flaky white flesh similar to that of more expensive whitefish species such as haddock and cod. Hake is extremely popular to buy from wet fish counters in countries such as France, Spain and Portugal whereas in the United Kingdom and Ireland hake are considerably less popular and are usually consumed as the fish in frozen fish fillets, fish fingers, fish cakes and other processed fish products. Hake are heavily targeted by commercial vessels, especially with the decline of cod and haddock stocks. Despite this, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) currently classes hake as a species of Least Concern globally, although in the Mediterranean they class hake as Vulnerable with a decreasing population trend, and point out that there is little being done to protect hake stocks or reduce the fishing pressure on this species. Greenpeace has added European Hake to their Redlist of fish that have a high chance of coming from unsustainable fisheries.