Cod, Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Longline
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Iceland
Stock detail



Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

Picture of Cod, Atlantic Cod

Sustainability rating one info

Sustainability overview

The Icelandic cod stock is assessed by ICES as being at sustainable levels or healthy and is being harvested sustainably. Fishing is prohibited in areas where numbers of small cod (less than 55cm) within the catch exceed 25%. Discarding is prohibited in Iceland as the whole catch must be landed. To increase the sustainability of the fish you buy choose line-caught or seine netted fish. When buying longline-caught cod, ask for fish caught using ‘seabird-friendly’ methods. See Fishing Methods for details. The cod fishery, including, longline, gillnet, handline, demersal trawl and Danish seine fisheries, (Iceland Sustainable Fisheries Group), in Iceland’s EEZ has been certified to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard as an environmentally responsible fishery since April 2012.


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


Stock information

A Government management plan for the stock was introduced in 2009. Since then the spawning-stock biomass (SSB) of Icelandic cod has continued to rise and is higher than has been observed over the last five decades. Fishing pressure has declined in the last two decades and is presently at a historical low. Year classes are estimated to have been relatively stable since 1988, but with the mean around the lower values observed in the period 1955 to 1985.

ICES advises that when the Iceland management plan is applied, catches in the fishing year 2018/2019 should be no more than 264 437 tonnes (257 572 tonnes in 2017/18; 244,000 t in 2016/17; 239,000 t in 2015/2016; 218, 000 t in 2014/2015; 215, 000 t in 2013/14; 196,000 in 2012/13).


Criterion score: 0 info

The introduction of a Harvest Control rule in 2009 has seen Spawning Stock Biomass rise. Restrictions on catches have resulted in 60% reduction in fishing mortality and 50% in harvest rate since 2000. A real-time closure system aimed at protecting juvenile fish has been in force since 1976. Fishing is prohibited, for at least two weeks, in areas where the proportion by number of small cod (< 55 cm) in the catches is observed by inspectors to exceed 25%. Since 1995, spawning areas have been closed for 2-3 weeks during the spawning season for all fisheries. This measure was aimed at protecting spawning fish. In 2005, the maximum mesh size allowed in gillnets was decreased to 20.3 cm (8 inches) in order to protect the largest spawners, but this mesh size ban was lifted in 2012. The mesh size in the codend in the trawling fishery was increased from 120 mm to 155 mm in 1977. Since 1998 the minimum codend mesh size allowed is 135 mm, provided that a so-called “Polish cover” is not used. The longline, handline and Danish seine fishery for cod in Iceland’s EEZ was certified to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard as an environmentally responsible fishery in June 2011.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Longlining (32%) and bottom trawls (49%) are the most common methods for catching cod in Iceland, with gears catching similar quantities. Gillnets (7%) also catch a proportion of the catch with some seine netting (6%) and handlining (6%). Fishing is prohibited in areas where numbers of small cod (less than 55cm) within the catch exceed 25%. Discarding is prohibited in Iceland as the whole catch must be landed. 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).


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
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)


ICES 2018. ICES Advice on fishing opportunities, catch, and effort Greenland Sea and Icelandic Waters ecoregions. Published 13 June 2018 (Accessed June 2018);
ICES Advice 2017, Book 2