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. Recruiment 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

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) for the Western population has been below the limit reference point, Blim since 2008. The fishing mortality (F) is well above FMSY. Recruitment (R) has been low since 1999. Whilst recruitment in 2016 was estimated to be the lowest in the time-series, recruitment in 2017 is estimated to be the highest since 2005. ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) is applied, total catches from the stock in 2018 are between 3130 tonnes and 5295 tonnes. If recreational catch in 2018 is similar to that estimated for 2017 (1754 tonnes), the corresponding commercial catches are between 1376 tonnes and 3541 tonnes.


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 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 F MSY. 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

Total catch of cod in this area in 2016 was 8705t (12 kt in 2015; 17.5 k in 2013) where 6233 are commercial landings, 156t (2.3 kt in 2013) discards (2%), and 2316t recreational catch. The main portion of cod is taken by active gears (61%) such as trawl and Seine nets, but also by passive gears (39%) e.g. gillnet and longline. There is potential damage to seabed by trawling. Trawling also associated with discarding of unwanted fish i.e. undersized and/or non-quota and/or over-quota species. Bycatch consists mainly of flatfish, with flounders being the most abundant. The minimum landing size for cod in EU waters is 35 cm and 38 cm in the Baltic. The approximate size at which 50% of females first spawn is however 60 to 70 cm.


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 8