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Fish #72 Blue Whiting Micromesistius poutassou ~ Biff Vernon
Oil on board 61 x 61cm
Blue Whiting, Micromesistius poutassou
Blue Whiting is a small fish, reaching a maximum size of about 50 cm but commonly caught when 25 to 35 cm long. It prefers deeper water than the Whiting, Merlangius merlangus, so in the North Sea it is mostly found west of Norway. The greatest abundance of Blue Whiting, is on the continental slope west of Ireland and Scotland where enormous shoals form in the spring at depths of 200 to 500 metres. After spawning they migrate northwards towards the Arctic, dispersing over a large area. The commercial fishery concentrates on the dense shoals in the springtime breeding season. There was little fishing for this species before the introduction of echo-location in the 1970 but then the annual catch grew to over two million tonnes in the early 2000s. Weighing some 200 grams each, that represents about ten billion fish.
From the fishmonger's and consumer's point of view, Blue Whiting presents a few issues. The fish goes off rather quickly, just a few days when packed in ice. It needs quick freezing and quick processing. Consequently, only a small part of the catch is eaten by humans, and then mostly in products such as fish fingers, pies, and sticks. You don't often see Blue Whiting fillets in the fishmonger's window.
Most of the Blue Whiting catch goes for 'industrial use', turned into fishmeal and then added to feed for farmed salmon, pigs and poultry or even fertiliser. Over the last decade the catch has dropped from its 2004 peak of 2.4 million tonnes and it is now regarded that one million tonnes may be a sustainable quantity. Whether we are justified in taking so many fish from the sea to feed the chicken we eat, or whether we should leave them for the tuna and whales to eat is a thought we might dwell upon.
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