Cod, Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Northeast Arctic (Barents and Norwegian Sea)
Stock detail — 1, 2
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Cod, Atlantic Cod

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

The cod stock in the northeast Arctic is in a healthy state, but fishing pressure is just above Maximum Sustainable Yield. There is a management plan for this stock, which ICES considers to be precautionary, but catches have been above scientific advice since 2016. The main concern in this fishery is the bycatch of coastal cod and golden redfish (Sebastes norvegicus): both stocks are in a poor state and golden redfish is listed as endangered.

There are numerous MSC certifications for cod, haddock and saithe fisheries in this area, some of which are required to take action to reduce golden redfish bycatch.


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 they 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. 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. The fish has a protruding upper jaw, a conspicuous barbel on the lower jaw (used to look for food), and a light lateral line, curved above the pectoral fins. 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.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

Stock Area

Northeast Arctic (Barents and Norwegian Sea)

Stock information

The stock is in a very healthy state, and fishing pressure is consistent with sustainable levels.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has been above MSY Btrigger (460,000 tonnes) since 2002. It peaked at 2,645,872t in 2013 and has been declining since, although at 1,525,907t in 2018 it remains in a very healthy state. Fishing mortality (F) was reduced from a peak of 0.95 in 1997 to a low of 0.24 in 2014. In 2018 it increased to 0.42, slightly above FMSY (0.4). There has been no strong recruitment since the 2004 and 2005 year classes.

ICES advises that when the Joint Russian-Norwegian Fisheries Commission management plan is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 689 672 tonnes - similar to the previous year’s advice. However, this is projected to be consistent with an F of 0.47, which is above FMSY.

There is some uncertainty in this assessment, which will be investigated further the next time the stock is benchmarked.


Criterion score: 0.25 info

The Joint Russian-Norwegian Fisheries Commission (JRNFC) amended their previous management plan in October 2016. The new plan uses average predicted catches across three years to calculate TACs and reach a target level of exploitation, which varies depending on the stock size. ICES evaluated this harvest control rule in 2016 and concluded that it is precautionary. However, since 2016 TACs have been set above scientific advice, and while catches have generally been below TACs, they have been above the advice too.

Between 2002 and 2008 there were high levels of unreported catches, but since 2009 there has been close alignment between total catches and officially reported landings. Increased surveillance and monitoring at sea and in the air by both Russian and Norwegian authorities, including greater participation by regulation-compliant fishing vessels, and greater cooperation from receiving port authorities, has more or less eradicated Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing in the Barents Sea. Discarding is considered to be negligible in recent years.

There are numerous Marine Stewardship Council certified cod, haddock and saithe fisheries in this area, so look for these products for the most sustainable options.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

There are numerous measures to protect habitats and reduce bycatch in this fishery. Ultimately though, unsustainable bycatch of golden redfish remains an issue.

In 2018, 71% of the catch was by demersal trawls. Most catches are by Russia and Norway, but Faroe Islands, Spain, Greenland and the UK, among others, also fish this stock.

Fisheries targeting Northeast Arctic (NEA) cod and haddock take a bycatch of golden redfish (Sebastes norvegicus), which is on the Norwegian Redlist as a threatened (EN) species according to the criteria given by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). An estimated sustainable catch would be 1,500t: total 2018 catch of golden redfish was 6,647t. Measures to minimise bycatch of this species are essential, although other fisheries take a higher bycatch then NEA cod. Bycatch of coastal cod should also be kept as low as possible in order to promote rebuilding of that stock (see MCS’s Atlantic Cod: Norwegian Coast rating for details).

The fishery is regulated by a minimum catch size, a minimum mesh size in trawls (130mm) and Danish seines and a maximum bycatch of undersized fish. Since January 1997, sorting grids have been mandatory for the trawl fisheries in most of the Barents Sea and Svalbard area. There are real-time closures of areas with high densities of juveniles, where the proportion by number of undersized cod, haddock, and saithe combined has been observed by inspectors to exceed 15%. The area is reopened after trial fishing shows the proportion to have reduced to below 15%. There are also seasonal and area restrictions.

While trawling does have seabed impacts, fishers tend to avoid areas containing vulnerable species such as sponge because these affect the quality of the catch. There are designated MPAs in Norwegian and Russian waters, within which all fishing is prohibited. It is an offence for any fishing vessel to fish on or in close proximity to known areas of coral reef or coral garden. Norwegian vessels report the presence of cold-water corals or sponges in a catch and then move 2-5 miles away to continue fishing - this is monitored through Vessel Monitoring Systems.

In recent years, changes in the ice cover due to ocean warming means, that potentially more areas of seabed would be available for trawling which had not been trawled in previous years.

There are numerous Marine Stewardship Council certified cod, haddock and saithe fisheries in this area, some of which have a focus on reducing golden redfish bycatch and ensuring that habitat impacts are minimised, particularly for sea pens (Pennatulacea).


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.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)


ICES. 2019. Arctic Fisheries Working Group (AFWG). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:30. 930 pp. doi: 10.17895/ Available at [Accessed on 11.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Cod (Gadus morhua) in subareas 1 and 2 (Northeast Arctic). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, cod.27.1-2, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4710. Available at [Accessed on 11.07.2019].

MSC, 2019. Marine Stewardship Council: Norway North East Arctic cod. Available at [Accessed on 17.09.2019].

Seafish, 2019. RASS Profile: Atlantic cod in the North-East Arctic (ICES subareas 1 and 2), Demersal otter trawl. Available at [Accessed on 11.07.2019]