Cod, Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Gill or fixed net
Capture area — Baltic Sea (FAO 27)
Stock area — Baltic West
Stock detail — Subdivisions 22-24
Picture of Cod, Atlantic Cod

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

The spawning stock biomass is below safe limits (below Blim) and fishing pressure too high and considerably above FMSY . Recruitment of young fish to the fishery has been low since 1999.


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

Baltic West

Stock information

Cod is overall the most important commercial species in the Baltic Sea. The abundance and distribution of cod has varied considerably over time due to biological as well as anthropogenic causes. Two populations are present in the area: eastern and western Baltic cod. These cod stocks have different morphometric characters and population genetics. They overlap in the area near Bornholm Island. The eastern cod occurs in the central, eastern and northern part of the Baltic but not in significant numbers north of the Aalands Islands. The western cod inhabits the areas west of Bornholm island including the Danish Straits. The eastern population is the largest (90% eastern : 10% western population), but some fluctuations in the relative proportions of the cod stocks occur due to differences and changes in exploitation level and recruitment.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) of the Western population has been below the limit reference point (Blim) since 2008, but has increased significantly in the last year. The fishing mortality (F) is well above FMSY. Recruitment (R) has been low since 1999; however, recruitment in 2017 (age 1, the 2016 year class) is estimated to be the highest since 1998. The recruitment in 2016 and 2018 (age 1) are historically low. ICES assesses that fishing pressure on the stock is above FMSY and below Fpa and Flim; and spawning stock size is below MSY Btrigger, Bpa, and Blim.

ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) is applied, total catches in 2019 that correspond to the F ranges in the plan are between 9094 tonnes and 23 992 tonnes (3130 tonnes and 5295 tonnes in 2018).
Depending on the management decision for recreational catches, assumed to be between 1754 tonnes and 3227 tonnes, the corresponding commercial catches are between 5867 tonnes and 22 238 tonnes (1376 tonnes and 3541 tonnes in 2018).


Criterion score: 0.5 info

The fishery is managed through Total Allowable Catch (TAC), effort, seasonal fisheries restrictions, and technical measures. The cod fisheries in the western Baltic have also been regulated since 2009 by a seasonal closure from 1 April to 30 April (since 2016 there is no directed cod fishery in February and March) to protect spawning aggregations of cod.
To decrease discards, a “Bacoma” codend with a 120 mm mesh was introduced by the International Baltic Sea Fisheries Commission (IBSFC) in 2001 in parallel to an increase in diamond mesh size to 130 mm in traditional codends. The expected effect of introducing the “Bacoma” 120 mm exit window was nullified by compensatory measures in the industry. This was to some extent explained by the mismatch between the selectivity of the 120 mm “Bacoma” trawl and the minimum landing size. In October 2003, the regulation was changed to a 110 mm “Bacoma” window. This was expected to enhance compliance and to be in better accordance with the minimum landing size, which was changed from 35 to 38 cm in the same year. As of 1 January 2010 the “Bacoma” 120 mm was re-introduced, along with an extended “Bacoma” window (5.5 m) to further decrease discarding, and the minimum landing size was kept at 38 cm. The increase in minimum landing size from 35 to 38 cm has increased discard rates. The management plan agreed in 2007 aims to reduce Fishing Mortality (F) by 10% each year until the target F is reached. Although the plan is evaluated by ICES as being in accordance with the precautionary principle it should be noted that F in the management plan is much larger than the current estimate of FMSY. Although the catches for most years since 2008 have been below the level advised by ICES the fishing mortality has not declined as anticipated. Due to this effect it is considered that following the relative F reductions (10%) stipulated in the plan will not reduce F. A new management plan is under development.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Total catch of cod in this area in 2017 was 5046 t (8.7kt in 2016 ;12 kt in 2015; 17.5 k in 2013) where 3923 (6233 in 2016) are commercial landings (78%), 191 t (156t in 2016) discards (4%), and 932 (2316t in 2016) recreational catch (18%).

The main portion of cod is taken by active gears (53% (61% in 2016)) such as trawl and Seine nets, but also by passive gears (47% (39% in 2016)) e.g. gillnet and longline.
Gillnets in the Baltic are associated with bycatch of endangered harbour porpoises. Gillnets can be very size selective for the target fish but can be unselective at the species level for both non-target fish and for mammals, birds and turtles. Harbour porpoise are highly prone to bycatch in bottom-set gillnets used to catch demersal species such as cod, turbot, hake, saithe, sole, skate and dogfish and tangle net fisheries used to capture flat fish and crustaceans, due largely to their feeding habits on or near the seabed. Porpoises are generally taken as single animals. EU Regulation 812/2004 requires all community fishing vessels, greater than or equal to 12 metres, using drift, gill and tangle nets to use pingers - acoustic devices to deter marine mammal entanglement in nets. It also requires Member States to introduce observer schemes to monitor cetacean bycatch in certain fisheries, most notably in pelagic trawls, and the phase out of driftnet fisheries in the Baltic Sea. Because of their durability, nets are made of nylon, if lost the net can continue to fish, a phenomenon known as ‘ghost fishing’.


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 Baltic Sea Ecoregion cod.27.22-24 Published 31 May 2018 version 2: 8 June 2018 (Accessed June 2018)
ICES (2017). ICES Advice, Book 8