Cod, Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Gill or fixed net
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Skagerrak, North Sea, Eastern Channel
Stock detail — IIIa, IV, VIId
Picture of Cod, Atlantic Cod

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

There is a long term management plan in place for the recovery of the stock in the combined area (Skagerrak, North Sea, eastern Channel) and as a result it has experienced a gradual improvement in it's status over the last few years with continued increases in stock abundance reported in all areas apart from the south of the area. Spawning stock biomass (SSB) has increased from the historical low in 2006 to above MSY Btrigger (150 000 t) in 2017. Although fishing mortality continues to decrease it is still too high. Atlantic cod is listed by OSPAR as a threatened and declining species and by IUCN as vulnerable in Greater North Sea and Celtic Sea.


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

Skagerrak, North Sea, Eastern Channel

Stock information

Although stock levels in the North Sea have declined from a peak of 250,000 tonnes in the early 1970s there has been a gradual improvement in the status of the stock in the combined area (Skagerrak, North Sea, eastern Channel) over the last few years with continued increases in stock abundance reported in all areas apart from the south of the area.

Spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has increased from the historical low in 2006 to above MSY Btrigger (150 000 t) in 2017 (estimated as close to 165,000 tonnes (MSY Btrigger) in 2016). Recruitment since 1998 has been poor but there are indications of increased recruitment in 2017. Fishing mortality (F) has declined since year 2000, but is estimated to be above FMSY. Although discards remain high at 24% in 2016 (25% in 2015; 23% in 2014) relative to historical levels, there has been a decreasing trend since 2008.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2018 should be no more than 59 888 tonnes.


North Sea cod was the first EU fish stock to be brought under long-term management. ICES evaluated the management plans in 2009 as in accordance with the precautionary approach, if implemented and enforced adequately. A Recovery Plan to increase the quantities of mature fish to sustainable levels, and reduce fishing mortality to a rate which can maximise long-term sustainable yield, has also been developed for the management of cod in the North Sea. The Plan provides incentives for Member States to reduce discards and establish cod-avoidance programmes. Since the implementation of effort management (days-at-sea regulation), fishing mortality rates have been reduced and the stock has increased from 2006. Changes to the stock assessment and reference points in 2015 and 2017 imply a need to re-evaluate the management strategy to ascertain if it can still be considered precautionary under the new stock perception. The EU landing obligation was implemented from 1 January 2017 for several gears and as a result parts of the cod fishery in the North Sea are now subject to the discard ban.

Capture Information

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 821/2004 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 net. A preliminary assessment of overall harbour porpoise bycatch rates in the North Sea was carried out using information gathered since 1995. This assessment indicated that bycatch rates in some fisheries may be above any proposed reference limits, but the uncertainty is large. Compared to bycatch rates observed in the 1990s bycatch has decreased mostly as a result of a substantial reduction in fishing effort. The minimum landing size for cod in waters in Skagerrak/Kattegat is 30cm. In all other EU waters it is 35cm. The approximate size at which 50% of females first spawn is, however, 60 to 70cm.


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)


The Net Effect. A WDCS Report for Greenpeace. Ross and Isaac (2004); The Price of Fish: A review of cetacean bycatch in fisheries in the north-east Atantic. L Nunny (2011);
ICES Advice 2017, Book 6;;;