Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Royal Netherlands
Institute for Sea Research

Whiting

Too big for the small stuff, too small for the big stuff.

Not for human consumption

Whiting spawn in the North Sea in January, but at the same time young whiting can be found near the coast and in the Wadden Sea. Whiting is a family member of the cod, haddock and saithe, but doesn’t have the same stature. By man whiting is seen as a 'catfish', i.e. good enough for a cat to eat, but not for human consumption. Whether or not this is deserved, once one has acquired such a name it is hard to get rid of. Of course, the structure of whiting meat is weaker than that of cod and its skin changes colour very easily. They don’t grow very big either, but to be thrown overboard as an undesired stranger is rather contemptuous.

On the other hand, some birds know how to handle a whiting when it is thrown overboard. If one looks in the pellets of lesser black-backed gulls breeding in the dunes, one can find a lot of whiting remains. Importantly, this will include the strong and species-specific stone, or otolith, from the head of a fish used for equilibrium and hearing. Near the black-backed gull colonies one can find thousands of whiting otoliths.

Stilll very common

Young whiting that hatched from the egg in January have a high risk of ending up in the stomach of a big fish, potentially even that of an adult whiting. But the young have found a solution to this problem; they save themselves by hiding under the umbrella of jellyfish where they can safely swim between the tentacles. Larger fish will touch the stinging cells of the jellyfish tentacles and will be quickly put off the idea of eating a young whiting. So the whiting is too big to be called small stuff, but is not considered a big fish either, being too ugly to eat. The end result is that whiting is still very common.