Cod, Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Beam trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Celtic Sea
Stock detail

VII e-k

Picture of Cod, Atlantic Cod

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

The stock size in this area is just below the lowest observed limit (Blim, 7,300t). Although fishing pressure remains high and is above MSY in 2016, the stock is being harvested sustainably. Atlantic cod is listed by OSPAR as a threatened and declining species in this area. Discards normally constitute about 10% of the total catch.


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: 1 info

Stock Area

Celtic Sea

Stock information

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has increased since 2014 but is just below Blim in 2017. Fishing mortality has been decreasing since 2014 but is still above FMSY in 2016. Recruitment has been highly variable over time. Recent recruitment has been weak with the exception of the 2013 year class, which is above average. ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2018 should be no more than 3428 tonnes. If discard rates (10%) do not change from the average of the last 3 years (2014-2016), this implies landings of no more than 3076 tonnes.


Criterion score: 0.5 info

There is no management plan for cod in this area. In order to protect cod stocks in this area, Cornish fishermen’s leaders, and their Irish and French counterparts, went to the European Commission with proposals for a 3,600 sq. mile ‘closed season’ off Trevose Head in the Bristol Channel. The closure was first introduced in February 2005. As far as MCS is aware, this is the largest industry proposed conservation closure area in Europe. It has been concluded that the closure is a potentially effective measure for protecting spawning aggregations of cod off North Cornwall. A management plan for this stock is under development by the North Western Waters Regional Advisory Council (NWWRAC).

Fishing mortality on cod is difficult to control because of the mixed-fisheries interactions. ICES cannot quantify the corresponding total catches due to uncertainty in the estimation of discard rates. Discards normally constitute about 10% of the total catch, but discard rates in recent years have fluctuated substantially because of variable recruitment and restrictive quotas.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Cod is caught in mixed demersal fisheries in a number of ways including by demersal otter trawl (79%), beam trawl (8%) and gillnet (8%). There is potential damage to the seabed by trawling. Trawling is also associated with discarding of unwanted fish, i.e. undersized and/or non-quota and/or over-quota species. Discards are normally composed of undersized fish in the order of 10% by weight, but this fluctuates when large year classes recruit to or join the fishery or when quotas are restrictive.The recent technical measures, nets with square mesh panels, introduced in the Celtic Sea are not expected to significantly reduce discards of Celtic Sea cod because they pass through the selection window quickly due to their fast growth rate.


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 5