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Cod, Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Gill or fixed net
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - Skagerrak, North Sea, Eastern Channel
Stock detail - IIIa, IV, VIId
Accreditation -
Fish type - White round fish

Sustainability rating Click for explaination of rating

This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed above, is the least sustainable fish to eat and should be avoided. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find sustainable fish to eat.


Sustainability overview

Stock levels in the North Sea have declined from a peak of 250,000 tonnes in the early 1970s to their current level of around 70,000 tonnes. Although fishing mortality continues to decrease it is still too high. Through the Conservation Credit Scheme, measures aimed at reducing cod mortality and discards to aid the recovery of the stock have been introduced and a 50% reduction in discards have been recorded for participating boats. Atlantic cod is listed by OSPAR as a threatened and declining species and by IUCN as vulnerable in the Greater North Sea and Celtic Sea. However, the efforts of fishers and managers through the Conservation Credits Scheme, and the fact that there is a long term management plan in place, are very positive moves and will hopefully see the fishery continue to recover in the coming years. Avoid eating cod from depleted stocks.

Biology

Cod belongs to a family of fish known as gadoids, which also includes species such as haddock, pollack, pouting and ling. It is a cold-temperate (boreal) marine, demersal (bottom-dwelling) species. Also found in brackish water. Their depth range is 0 - 600 m, but are more usually found between 150 and 200 m. They have a common length of 100 cm. Maximum length 200 cm. Maximum published weight 96 kg and a maximum reported age of 25 years. In the North Sea cod mature at 4-5 years at a length of about 50 cm. They spawn in winter and the beginning of spring from February to April. Spawning sites are in offshore waters, at or near the bottom (50-200 m depth) and at water temperatures of 0-12 °C (preferred range 0-6°C). May form spawning aggregations in the water column when temperatures are unsuitable. Different spawning areas may be used in subsequent years. Embryo development lasts about 14 days (at 6°C) and larval phase about 3 months (at 8°C). Fecundity ranges from 2.5 million eggs in a 5 kg female to a record of 9 million eggs in a 34 kg female. Sex ratio is nearly 50%, with slight predominance of females. Classified as a determinate multiple spawner. Older and larger cod have been found to produce larger eggs with neutral buoyancy at lower salinities. This can be crucial to egg and larval survival. Larvae are pelagic up to 2.5 months before settling on the bottom. The fish has a protruding upper jaw, a conspicuous barbel on the lower jaw (used to look for food), and light lateral line, curved above the pectoral fins. Predorsal distance is less than one third of total length; body depth about 1/5 of total length. Colour varies from brownish to greenish or gray dorsally and on upper sides, becoming pale and silvery ventrally. Peritoneum silvery. Distribution: North Atlantic and Arctic: Ungava Bay in Canada along the North American coast to Cape Hatteras; North Carolina in the western Atlantic. East and west coast of Greenland; around Iceland; from Barents Sea including the region around Bear Island along the European coast to Bay of Biscay. Widely distributed in a variety of habitats, from the shoreline down to the continental shelf. Juveniles prefer shallow (less than 10-30 m depth) sublittoral waters with complex habitats, such as seagrass beds, areas with gravel, rocks, or boulder, which provide protection from predators. Adults are usually found in deeper, colder waters. During the day, cod form schools and swim about 30-80 m above the bottom, dispersing at night to feed. Omnivorous; feed at dawn or dusk on invertebrates and fish, including young cod. Migrate between spawning, feeding and overwintering areas, mostly within the boundaries of the respective stocks. Migrations >200 km are rare occurrences.

Stock information

Stock area
Skagerrak, North Sea, Eastern Channel

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Stock information
Stock levels in the North Sea have declined from a peak of 250,000 tonnes in the early 1970s to their current level of around 70,000 tonnes. There are long-term managment plans for this stock, the main aim ofwhich is to reduce fishing effort. There has been a gradual improvement in the status of the stock in the combined area (Skagerrak, North Sea, eastern Channel) over the last few years. SSB has increased from a historical low in 2006, and is now in the vicinity of Blim. Fishing mortality declined from 2000, and continues to decline and, although still above Fmsy in 2012, it is now around the level identified in the Management Plans. ICES evaluated the managment plans in 2009 as in accordance with the precautionary approach if implemented and enforced adequately. Recruitment since 2000 has been poor. Although discards are still high relative to historical levels, there has been a decreasing trend since 2008. ICES advises that landings in 2014 should be no more than 28,809 t (25, 441 in 2013; 31,800 t in 2012). The TAC recommended for 2013 was 25,441 t. The TAC adopted following the December Council Meeting was 31,800 t, 25 % more than that recommended by both ICES and STECF scientists. The increase in the TAC was agreed amongst Ministers to reduce discarding.

Management

Prior to the international adoption of 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the late 1970s, cod caught in distant waters such as Iceland was important, but declined in favour of supplies from near waters such as the North Sea when, in the late 1980s cod from the North Sea accounted for 80% of UK landings at English ports, compared to 10% in the 1950s and 60s. Today, due to overfishing and strong demand for white fish we are again reliant on imports of cod from overseas. Management of commercial fish stocks is the responsibility of a number of national Government departments, Marine Management Organisation (MMO) in England and Wales and Marine Scotland, statutory agencies and local authorities. Quotas are set to help achieve the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy for the conservation and sustainable management of fish stocks. Member states are responsible for ensuring that landings by their fishing fleets do not exceed their quotas. Because overfishing of quotas can endanger stocks, the EU deducts quota from any member state that overfishes and may also bring legal proceedings, with the possibility of substantial fines. North Sea cod was the first EU fish stock to be brought under long-term management. ICES evaluated the managment plans in 2009 as in accordance with the precautionary approach if implemented and enforced adequately. A Recovery Plan to increase the quantities of mature fish to sustainable levels and reduce fishing mortality to a rate which can maximise long-term sustainable yield has also been developed for the management of cod in the North Sea. The Plan provides incentives for Member States to reduce discards and establish cod-avoidance programmes. For example the Scottish fleet implemented a voluntary 'Conservation Credits' scheme, where vessels obtained more days-at-sea allowance for adopting measures that would reduce the mortality on cod and reduce discarding. The implementation of the Eliminator trawl during the 2009 season aims to further reduce cod discards in the mixed North Sea demersal fishery. For participating boats an estimated decrease in discards of approximately 50% was recorded. In response the EU has allowed the scheme to expand and is going to fund the expansion to allow approximately 34 boats to take part, double the amount from 2010.

Capture information

Gillnets can be very size selective for the target fish but can be unselective at the species level for both non-target fish and for mammals, birds and turtles. The gillnet fishery for cod in these areas takes bycatches of harbour porpoise. Harbour porpoise are highly prone to bycatch in bottom-set gillnets used to catch demersal species such as cod, turbot, hake, saithe, sole, skate and dogfish and tangle net fisheries used to capture flat fish and crustaceans, due largely to their feeding habits on or near the seabed. Porpoises are generally taken as single animals. EU Regulation 821/2004 requires all community fishing vessels, greater than or equal to 12 metres, using drift, gill and tangle nets to use pingers - acoustic devices to deter marine mammal entanglement in net. The minimum landing size for cod in waters in Skagerrak/Kattegat is 30cm. In all other EU waters it is 35cm. The approximate size at which 50% of females first spawn is, however, 60 to 70cm.

Read more about capture methods

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below . Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Alaska pollock, Walleye pollock Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Bass, seabass Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Bream, Gilthead Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Cod, Atlantic Cod Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Coley, Saithe Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Haddock Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Hake, Cape

Japanese amberjack, Yellowtail or Seriola

Meagre

Pouting or Bib

Sturgeon Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Tilapia

Whiting Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.


References
The Net Effect. A WDCS Report for Greenpeace. Ross and Isaac (2004); The Price of Fish: A review of cetacean bycatch in fisheries in the north-east Atantic. L Nunny (2011); ICES Advice 2014, Book 6 http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2014/2014/cod-347d.pdf

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