Species Profile

White Hake Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence population

Scientific Name: Urophycis tenuis
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
Range: Atlantic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2013
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.

Go to advanced search

Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of White Hake

White Hake Photo 1



A fast-growing species that can live longer than 20 years, white hake can grow 60 to 70 centimeters in length. It has the following characteristics: an elongated body with threadlike rays extending from its pelvic fins reaching past the tips of its pectoral fins, a small barbel under its chin and its large mouth reaches to below its large eyes. Contrary to its name, white hake isn’t white at all. They vary in color. They are typically grey to dark purple-brown on the dorsal area, bronze to golden along their sides, and white to yellow on the belly with many tiny black spots. (Updated 2017/02/22)



The Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence population of white hake is primarily found southwest of the Laurentian Channel. White hake are found near the sea floor and they prefer areas with sandy or muddy bottoms. They seek depths with water temperatures ranging from 4-8º C. Larger fish generally inhabit deeper waters while small juveniles typically occupy shallow areas close to shore or over shallow offshore banks. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, white hakes of all sizes tend to move shoreward in summer and swim to deeper water in winter. (Updated 2017/02/22)



Spawning in the eastern Northumberland Strait occurs from June to September, with peak spawning in late June. Spawning in other areas occurs in early spring and a second summer spawning has been reported from the Scotian Shelf. Size at 50% maturity in Canadian waters ranges from 40-54 cm for females and 37-44 cm for males. The average reproductive age is estimated to be 9 years. (Updated 2017/02/27)



Currently, bycatch remains the biggest threat to white hake in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. Levels of fishing that were sustainable in the 1970s and early 1980s became unsustainable when natural mortality increased in the late 1980s. These factors contributed to the species’ decline at a time when natural mortality was high possibly due to increased predation by grey seals. Fishing in this area was reduced to negligible levels in the mid-1990s and overfishing is no longer a significant threat. Nonetheless, recent research using current levels of natural mortality and fishery bycatch indicates a greater than 20% probability of this population becoming extirpated (absent in this area) in the next five generations or 30 years. A fishing moratorium has protected the white hake in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence since 1995. Since then, the Department has also implemented measures requiring smelt fishermen to release all groundfish (primarily white hake and winter flounder) from fishing gear when accidently caught bycatch. Habitat loss or modification only appears to be a threat in coastal regions where it is well-documented that newly-settled white hake reside in nursery areas. (Updated 2017/02/22)



Federal Protection

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

3 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the White Hake Urophycis tenuis in Canada (2014)

    White Hake, Urophycis tenuis (Mitchill, 1815), is a member of the Family Phycidae, and is one of many cod-like (gadiform) fishes found on the east coast of Canada. Common names include White Hake, Ling, and merluche blanche (Fr). The combination of a single small barbel at the tip of the lower jaw, two dorsal fins, and elongated pelvic fins identifies fish from the western Atlantic in waters off Canada to the genus Urophycis. White Hake and Red Hake (Urophysis chuss) are distinguished by the number of lateral line scales and the number of gill rakers on the upper arm of the first gill arch.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement – White Hake, Southern Gulf St. Lawrence Population (2015)

    This population increased during the mid-1970s to a peak in the mid-1980s before undergoing a steep decline, which leveled out by the mid-1990s. The overall decline rate has been 91% over the past 3 generations. The area of occupancy followed a similar though less dramatic trend, and one segment of the population seems to have disappeared. The non-fishing adult mortality rate of the population increased dramatically in the 1990s and it remains extremely high. If this continues, the population is unlikely to be viable in the long term. Thus, numbers remain low, with minimal recovery, despite the cessation of fisheries directed toward this species. While fisheries were the primary cause of the decline, it appears that high non-fishing mortality, perhaps by Grey Seal predation, may be preventing recovery since then.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2013-2014 (2014)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to "assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species". COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2013 to September, 2014) from November 24 to November 29, 2013 and from April 27 to May 2, 2014. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 56 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2012-2013 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 0 Endangered: 23 Threatened: 12 Special Concern: 20 Data Deficient: 0 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 56 Of the 56 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 40 that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 25 of those wildlife species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment.