State Museum of Natural History
Biodiversity Data Centre

Merlangius merlangus (Linnaeus, 1758)

  • Gadus merlangus Linnaeus, 1758
  • Gadus euxinus Nordmann, 1840
  • Merlangus linnei Malm, 1877
  • Merlangus vulgaris Fleming, 1828
Vernacular Name
Whiting, English Whiting, European Whiting, Golden Cutlet, North Sea Whiting, Spelding
Conservation status
No status defined
Value of species
In Bulgaria and Ukraine minimum size limits are in place (12 cm).
Merlangius merlangus is restricted to the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, where it is known from the southeast Barents Sea south to Portugal, including Iceland, the western Baltic, Belt Sea, Sound and the Kattegat. It also occurs in the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea as the subspecies Merlangius merlangus ssp. euxinus, and in a few areas in the northern Aegean Sea (Papaconstantinou 1988) and northern Adriatic Sea. It is present in the north Mediterranean Sea (L. Gil de Sola pers. obs. 2014); however, it is rare in the northwest Mediterranean Sea. Merlangius merlangus is a low-salinity species typically occurring above 50 m depth but it has been found from 10 to 200 m. This species appears to be shifting its distribution northward in response to climate change (ICES 2005). In the northern portion of its range in the Northeastern Atlantic, biomass estimates are available for three stocks: the North Sea, West of Scotland and Celtic Sea. The North Sea is the largest stock in the region. Summed SSB across all three stocks over the past 10 years (2002-2012) is fluctuating and relatively stable (ICES DATRAS database accessed February 2014). There are no biomass estimated for stocks in Rockall, Irish Sea, Kattegat, Skagerrak and Bay of Biscay-West Iberia. Recent stock assessments in the Black Sea show increasing SSB over the past 10 years. The stocks for which data are available show variable trends in total biomass, spawning stock biomass and recruitment. The largest stock, the North Sea stock accounting for 90% of the total biomass of stocks for which data are available, decreased to a historical low in 2007 and has since shown some sign of recovery. Global FAO landings are declared by the following fishing regions: Northeastern Atlantic; Mediterranean and Black Sea, with the large majority of landings (>90%) originating in the Northeastern Atlantic. The overall trend in global landings for this species is one of sharp and continual increase with fluctuations from 1960 to a series high of 283,616 tonnes declared in 1978. From 1979 to 2004, landings decrease to a series low of 40,325 tonnes. From 2004 to 2010, landings increase slightly to 47,373 tonnes.The overall trend in global landings is driven the by declining trend in landings originating from the Northeastern Atlantic. Landings from the Mediterranean/Black Sea represent an increasing proportion of global landings as landings in the Northeastern Atlantic decline. In 2010, 33% of landings (15,754 tonnes) originated from this fishing region. The overall trend in Mediterranean/Black Sea landings is one of fluctuating increase until 1988 (33,720 tonnes), declining in 2004 (8,609 tonnes) and then from 2004 to 2001 landings increase to 15,754 tonnes (FishStatJ). Black Sea: Whiting is one of the most abundant species of demersal fishes in the Black Sea. This species is the main predator of the Black Sea sprat, and has been affected by the decline in sprat stocks (Lleonard 2008). In 2012, the estimated F (0.375) exceeded the Fmsy (0.352) and the stock was considered to be exploited unsustainably (GFCM 2012). However, a recent stock assessment (STECF 2011) shows increasing SSB since 1995. Individuals up to age class six are most frequently encountered in fisheries. Stock delineation in the Black Sea is unresolved and landings are reported separately for each country. Whiting is primarily taken as by-catch in mixed fisheries in the region and also by a targeted fishery operating in Turkey. However, catch statistics likely under-represent actual catches in this region and observed discards for this species are very high (GFCM 2012). Merlangius merlangus is a benthopelagic, oceanodromous species that is more commonly found from 30 to 100 m, mainly on mud and gravel bottoms but also on sand and rock. The young are found in shallower waters from five to 30 m depth. This species reaches a maximum length of 70 cm, but is more commonly seen at less than 23.5 cm. This species feeds on shrimps, crabs, molluscs, small fish, polychaetes and cephalopods. Sprat is an important component of the diet of Black Sea Whiting, where it is also associated with spiny dogfish concentrations (GFCM 2012). This fish migrates to the open sea only after its first year of life. Spawning occurs at 20 to 150 meters depth between January and July in the HELCOM area, from January to September in the area between the British Isles and the Bay of Biscay; from January to spring in the Mediterranean, and throughout the year in the Black Sea. Eggs are pelagic and both eggs and juveniles are associated with jellyfish. Upon maturity, small chin barbel which are juveniles characteristics disappear (Prévost 2005). The age of first maturity for this species is reached at three to four years of age (Cohen et al. 1990), although alternate ages of first maturity have been provided at ages of one to four years. For example, in the Irish Sea most females (95%) were found to be sexually mature at age two regardless of length class. This species has maximum longevity of 20 years. Based on current age structure data, the average age of reproducing adults is conservatively estimated to be 2.2 years (ICES WGNSSK 2013), although historical generation length may have been higher (five to six years) based on estimates of age structure under zero fishing and conventional natural mortality of 0.2. In the Mediterranean, the maximum recorded size is 33.1 cm TL and the length at maturity for females is 25.0 cm TL and for males is 24.0 cm TL (Tsikliras and Stergiou 2014). This is a species with high commercial importance as it can be utilized fresh or cooked (steamed, broiled and baked) and is easily preserved (dried, salted, smoked and frozen) (Frimodt 1995).
Book reference
  • Котенко Т.И., Ардамацкая Т.Б., Дубина Д.В. и др. Биоразнообразие Джарылгача: современное состояние и пути сохранения // Вісник зоології. – 2000. – Спец. випуск. – 240 с.
  • Соколов Н.Ю. Каталог колекції круглоротих і риб Державного природознавчого музею НАН України // Наукові записки Державного природознавчого музею. – Львів, 2004. – Т.19. – С. 15-28.
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Taxonomic branch