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Hake on the Menu 

click to enlarge A Pacific hake skeleton.

Photo by Mike Kelly

A Pacific hake skeleton.

As a billionaire, I'm told I should do something good for the planet. That's B.S., of course, but I opened a sustainable seafood restaurant to make it look like I care.

At the Washed-Up Seafood Galley, everything is extra-sustainable because my staff of expert beachcombers only harvests already dead or dying organisms. And there's no bycatch of non-target species because all encrusting organisms and parasites go into our famous bisque. Plus, we have no single-use plastics. For example, our straws are empty crab legs.

Today's find-of-the-day is blackened Pacific hake (Merluccius productus), locally sourced just this morning on Black Sand Beach. It's breaded in al-dente black sand and pan-fried in extra-virgin washed-up shark liver oil. We also offer this dinner as a roadkill surf-n-turf.

Hake from the West Coast offshore fishery is already a recommended choice by the big dog of sustainable seafood lists. The fishery is managed by quota, and the fish are harvested in targeted midwater trawl nets, which helps minimize bycatch and avoids damaging bottom habitats.

Recently, annual commercial landings of Pacific hake totaled almost a half-billion pounds worth more than $50 million. In contrast, Washed-Up Seafood Galley's landings total 3 pounds valued at just $14.99 per plate with a choice of bisque served in a gaper clam's shell, or a crudité featuring a colorful medley of green, brown and red algae.

Pacific hake make vertical feeding migrations in offshore waters that take them from the surface to the bottom at over 3,000 feet deep. Their large mouth and numerous pointy teeth indicate they are active predators. Their diet includes swimming crustaceans like krill and shrimp, fishes (commonly including smaller Pacific hake) and squids.

I didn't get to be a billionaire by wasting opportunities. So, we check the stomach contents of all washed-up fish to find additional sustainable delicacies. As such, our blackened hake dinner also includes a calamari and scampi appetizer. And for a modest corkage fee, you may bring your own antibiotics.

In addition to their vertical migrations, Pacific hake migrate from south to north along the coast during winter and spring, then they return to the south in the fall. They range from the Gulf of California, Mexico, to the Gulf of Alaska. They typically spawn in late winter off southern and central California. They are open-water broadcast spawners, so they aggregate and the females release eggs. Then the slightly smaller males swim around fertilizing the eggs in the only way they know how. Large females, which may reach 3 feet long, produce up to 500,000 eggs per year.

If I had $10 for every egg from just one hake, I'd have ... oh wait, I do! Hahaha!

Pacific hake are in the cod family, so their flesh is white and flakey if handled correctly, which can be difficult. So, a large portion of the Pacific hake harvest goes into manufacture of surimi paste, which is then made into imitation crabmeat and other items.

One old scientific report says schools of hake either orient themselves parallel to the depth contour of the ocean bottom or perpendicular to it at other times. Only the hake know why. This report also mentions that schools can be 12 miles long, 7.5 miles wide and 20 to 70 feet thick. No wonder they wash up sometimes.

And yes, we've had inquiries , but federal law prohibits Washed-Up Seafood Galley from serving entrees harvested from any of the migrating gray whales that have washed up recently. However, I vacation with key Supreme Court justices, so I'm looking forward to eventually seeing you on Whale Wednesdays!

Biologist Mike Kelly (he/him) is also the author of the book Tigerfish: Traditional and Sport Fishing on the Niger River, Mali, West Africa. It's available at Amazon, or everywhere e-books are sold.

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