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

I & II


Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

Picture of Cod, Atlantic Cod

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

The cod stock in the northeast Arctic is assessed by scientists as being at sustainable levels or healthy and is beng fished at sustainable levels. However bycatch levels of golden redfish (Sebastes norvegicus) is still far above any sustainable catch level. The Norway NE Arctic offshore cod fishery and the Barents Sea demersal trawl cod fishery within Norwegian and Russian EEZ and in international waters are certified as sustainable fisheries by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).


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 spawning stock biomass (SSB) has been above MSY Btrigger since 2002. Based on most recent estimates (June 2017), SSB reached a peak in 2013 and now shows a downward trend. Fishing mortality (F) was reduced from well above Flim in 1997 to below FMSY in 2008, and the most recent estimate is likely to be below FMSY. 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 2018 should be no more than 712 000 tonnes (805,000 in 2017; 805,000 t in 2016; 894, 000 t in 2015; 993,000 t in 2014; 940,000 t in 2013). Bycatch of coastal cod and golden redfish (Sebastes norvegicus) should be kept as low as possible.


Criterion score: 0 info

A Management Plan which is in accordance with the Precautionary Approach has existed for this stock since 2004. In addition to quotas and restrictions on mesh and minimum landing sizes, the fishery is also regulated by other measures, such as maximum bycatch of undersized and non-target species, and closure of areas with high density of juveniles. The fisheries are also controlled by inspections at sea, by a requirement to report at catch control points when entering and leaving the EEZs to land fish, and by VMS satellite tracking for some fleets. The Norway NE Arctic offshore cod fishery, using a range of fishing gears, was certified to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard as an environmentally responsible fishery in April 2010. The Barents Sea demersal trawl cod fishery within Norwegian and Russian EEZ and in international waters was also certified to the MSC standard in November 2010.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

The predominant (70%) gear type used to catch cod in this area is by demersal trawl. Cod is a target species caught in a mixed fishery together with haddock and saithe. Fisheries targeting Northeast Arctic (NEA) cod take a considerable part of the total golden redfish (Sebastes norvegicus) catch as bycatch, which is still far above any sustainable catch level. Measures to minimize bycatch levels are essential. There is a potential for damage to seabed from trawling. Trawling is also associated with discarding of unwanted fish, i.e. undersized and/or non-quota and/or over-quota species. Discarding of cod, haddock and saithe is thought to be significant in some periods. However, discarding is banned in Norwegian and Russian waters in which much of this fishery takes place. Since January 2011 the minimum landing size for cod in these waters is 44 cm. Trawlers in Barents and Norwegian Seas are also required to use sorting grids and much larger meshes than trawlers in European waters, allowing a higher precentage of small cod and undesirable catch to escape. Sorting grids are also mandatory in most of the Barents Sea and Svalbard area (since 1997), ensuring a more selective catch. For fixed net fisheries, bycatch of marine mammals and other non-target species can be problematic. However, use of management measures including acoustic devices called ‘pingers’ can help reduce bycatch of marine mammals. Longlining is a less fuel intensive and more selective method of fishing. There is, however, a risk of possible bycatch of shark and other non-target species, including seabirds. Handlines are typically used in artisanal and/or coastal fisheries and have less impact on fish stocks, non-target species (such as other fish and seabirds) and habitats (such as the seabed). Seine netting causes less damage to the seabed than trawling. It is also less fuel intensive and the catch of a better quality, as it is not bumped along the seabed as with trawling.


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
Bass, seabass (Farmed)
Bream, Gilthead (Farmed)
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Japanese amberjack, Yellowtail or Seriola
Pollack or Lythe
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Pouting or Bib
Sturgeon (Farmed)


ICES Advice 2017, Book 3;