Atlantic Cod - Gadus morhua

Status: Vulnerable … The UK’s best-loved chip shop fish has been battered

Type: Fish

Location: Northeast and northwest Atlantic including all around the British coast.

Size: Up to 150cm

Habitat: Coastal waters to depths of 500 to 600 metres, and in the open ocean.


Main Threats:
Cod steaks and fillets are popularly eaten poached, fried, grilled or baked and served with parsley sauce, lemon wedges and of course, chips. Delicious – but for how long? The Atlantic cod is a fish in crisis. With the exception of cod from the northeast Arctic, Iceland, Eastern Baltic and Celtic Sea, all other cod stocks in the northeast Atlantic are overfished, inefficiently managed or at an unknown level. The fish stocks in the Irish Sea have fallen drastically within the last few years. Fishery Improvement Programmes in the North Sea are starting to have an impact, with North Sea cod stocks slowly recovering from an all-time low in the mid-2000s. Recent figures compiled and published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) warn that the risk of a collapse of cod in the North Sea is still high, and the stock is still below safe biological limits.

Throughout its range, the harvesting of young fish, before they have been able to reproduce successfully, is a serious threat to Atlantic cod. Most cod spawn between the months of January and April and a female, if she is large enough, can release up to five million eggs. Depending on the temperature, the eggs hatch in two to four weeks and the young cod drift in the open ocean, feeding on small planktonic animals. It is widely accepted that climate change is rapidly warming the North Sea, and over time this has altered the timings of the cod hatch and the blooms of plankton the young fish depend on, which is further impacting the recovery of North Sea cod stocks. Adult Atlantic cod will eat a wide variety of prey, ranging from other fish (up to the size of herring) to worms; they also take swimming crabs, shrimps, prawns and even the threatened ocean quahog clam.

You might recognise cod in your fish and chip shop but would you recognise it swimming in the sea? The colour of the body can vary depending on the habitat in which the fish is found, but ranges from reddish or greenish where the water is populated by algae, and pale grey where the fish is found in deep water or near a sandy bottom. The cod has a barbel on the end of its chin and, in common with several other members of the Gadoid family, three dorsal and two anal fins.

There are several cod stocks that are well-managed, as described above, but the only hope for the future of those stocks still struggling, such as North Sea stock, is precautionary and smart management, taking in to account the future effects of climate change.


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What MCS is doing:

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