Spotted Hake - Urophycis regia
Habitat Spotted hakes are benthic fish, meaning their typical range is along or near the bottom of the ocean from nearshore areas up to approximately 1,300 feet deep. They will commonly bury themselves in the sand or mud with only their head sticking out. Juveniles prefer estuaries, as they provide helpful nursery areas. When waters become warmer in the summer, the juveniles will then move off shore.
Range The spotted hake can be found from Maine to Florida and even in the northeast Gulf of Mexico. It is plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay, but rarely makes its way up to Maine. It is most common along the coast of the United States from southern New England to Cape Hatteras. A single specimen has been found as far north as Sable Island in Nova Scotia, Canada, though this occurrence was over a century ago.
Description The spotted hake can be distinguished from other hakes by its lateral line and first dorsal fin. The spotted hake has a dark lateral line with a series of pale spots along it, which is where its name originates from. The first dorsal fin has a black spot and white margins, which is not seen in other common hakes. The body color of a spotted hake is plain or blotchy brownish dorsally with a pale underbelly. Pelvic fins of the spotted hake will reach to or beyond anal fin origin. The spotted hake also has distinctive barbel ("whisker") on their chin.
Ecological Notes This fish will spawn offshore, with young typically being found in estuaries. Spawning typically occurs in late summer to winter. Spotted hakes feed on small shrimps, crabs, fishes, and squids. This fish will use its barbel (whiskers) on its chin to search for bottom-dwelling food sources. Juvenile spotted hakes are a preferred food for striped bass in the Delaware Bay. Spotted hakes have limited commercial value and are usually caught through bottom trawling or hook-and-line. This fish can be marketed fresh or used as fish meal.
Personal Information This spotted hake was caught while fish trawling in the Croatan Sound in April of 2018 during a boating activity at UNC Coastal Studies Institute. Several species of this fish were caught and put in a bucket upon the boat for further examination, though all were released except for this particular fish. In the bucket, the spotted hake seemed to prefer the bottom of the bucket, and seemed to attempt to bury itself among the rocks in the bucket.
Journal Articles For information on Urophycis regia
Hernandez, F., Hare, J., & Fey, D. (2009). Evaluating diel, ontogenetic, and environmental effects on larval fish vertical distribution using Generalized Additive Models for Location, Scale, and Shape. Fisheries Oceanography, 18(4), 224-236.
This article examines the potential factors influencing vertical distribution patterns of Spotted Hake larvae. Preflexion larvae were not found to have diel distribution, though they did avoid areas of high turbulence due to wind stress. In contrast, postflexion larvae were found to have diel vertical distribution, which was influenced by surface turbulence as well.
Burr, B., & Schwartz, F. (1986). Occurence, growth, and food habits of the spotted hake, Urophycis regia, in the Cape Fear estuary and adjacent Atlantic Ocean, North Carolina. Northeast Gulf Science, 8(2), 115-127.
This journal addresses how estuaries are important nurseries for Spotted Hakes by collecting young from the Cape Fear estuary. When the water warmed, the fish would then move offshore. Researchers also tracked the growth of these fish and common food sources. The average growth was 12-26 mm (from January to June), and food sources included crustaceans such as mysid shrimp and decapods, and fishes.
Contributed by Hannah Stryker - 2018