Cod, Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Longline
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Faroe Plateau
Stock detail — 5b.1
Picture of Cod, Atlantic Cod

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Updated: December 2019 

Two distinct cod stocks are recognised in the Faroes: Faroe Plateau, and Faroe Bank. On Faroe Plateau, the cod stock has recovered from over a decade of being at very low levels, and is now well above the target for biomass. Fishing pressure remains above sustainable levels, but has declined over the past decade. There is no management plan for this stock, and no agreed Total Allowable Catch, but an effort management system has been in place since 1996. However, catches are exceeding the advice and the system is therefore not appropriately controlling the fishery. Trawling accounted for 48% of catches in 2018, longlining for 41% and jigging or handlining 11%. The Faroe Islands are responsible for around 95% of catches, with Scotland and Norway catching small amounts. Jigging is a very low impact and selective method, with little in the way of bycatch or habitat impacts. Trawling can be associated with seabed damage and bycatch and discarding of unwanted species, e.g. vulnerable species or undersized or over-quota fish. Fishing areas are closed if too many juvenile cod, haddock or saithe are caught. There are also a number of areas that are closed to trawling to mitigate impacts on vulnerable ecosystems such as corals. Longlining has few habitat impacts, but is associated with bycatch of species such as seabirds and there seems to be little being done to mitigate such impacts.

Biology

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: 0.5 info

Stock Area

Faroe Plateau

Stock information

Two distinct stocks are recognised in the Faroes: Faroe Plateau, and Faroe Bank. On Faroe Plateau, spawning-stock biomass (SSB) was below Blim (21,000 tonnes) from 2011-2015 and has since increased, exceeding MSY Btrigger (29,226t) in 2018. SSB in 2019 was 40,370t. Fishing mortality (F) has been above FMSY (0.23) throughout the history of the fishery, but it has gradually decreased from 0.594 in 2010 to 0.427 in 2018 - still almost double FMSY. In terms of recruitment, 2009-2015 year classes were below average size but 2016-2018 year classes are estimated to be at or above average, though there is large uncertainty around these estimates.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 11,679 tonnes. This is an increase of 25% on the previous year’s advice owing to the increase in biomass from higher recruitment and lower fishing mortality in recent years. The spawning stock biomass is expected to continue to increase, reaching 70 thousand tonnes in 2020 and 100 thousand tonnes in 2021.

The decade of low biomass of Faroe Plateau cod from 2004-2014 was unprecedented over the last 300 years. It is thought to be owing to poor recruitment. Since 2002, the temperature has been extraordinarily high (although it has been a little cooler in 2014-2018), which may have had a negative effect on cod recruitment in the past but probably a positive effect in recent years. There is also a link with prey (sandeel) availability - in years when sandeels are low, cod seem to stay closer to land and are of poor condition, making them easier to catch with longlines or rods.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

There is no management plan for this stock, and no agreed Total Allowable Catch, but an effort management system has been in place since 1996. However, catches are exceeding the advice and the system is therefore not appropriately controlling the fishery.

A catch quota management system was introduced in Faroes fisheries in 1994, but was met with considerable criticism and resulted in discarding and in misreporting of catches. Reorganization of enforcement and control did not solve the problems and it was discontinued in May 1996. In close cooperation with the fishing industry, in June 1996 the Faroese government introduced a new system based on individual transferable effort quotas in days within fleet categories. The categories were: 1) large pair trawlers; 2) large longliners; 3) coastal trawlers and longliners; 4) small coastal vessels, e.g. jiggers; and 5) gillnetters and others. One fishing day for group 1 was equivalent to 2 fishing days for group 2, for example, therefore small longliners could double their allocation by switching to jigging. While the number of days allocated has greatly reduced over time, there are still a large number of unused days. This system doesn’t seem to have accounted for changes in efficiency through gear developments, or preferential targeting of one species (cod) over others (haddock and saithe). Faroe Plateau cod catches have been higher than the advice since 2014. In 2018, the advised catch limit was 4,579t and the preliminary catch was 12,311t - 2.6 times the advice. Therefore the current management is not appropriately managing the fishery.

A new management plan based agreed by the fishing industry, Faroe Marine Research Institute and Faroe Coastal Guard was supposed to be implemented in January 2019, but was postponed to 1st January 2020. It regulated large trawlers and longliners through quotas, and other gears through licenses for fishing days as before. However, an alternative plan has since been proposed, maintaining the old fishing days system and introducing harvest control rules for cod, haddock and saithe. The HCRs aim to keep fishing mortalities within sustainable limits, with a recovery plan for when spawning stocks are below certain limits. A buffer limits the change in the number of fishing days to -5%, 0% or 5% from one year to the next. The management plan is not implemented yet.

ICES recommends that fishing mortality should be kept close to FMSY in order to obtain maximum catch and avoid low stock levels in the future. There seems to be a poor relationship between the number of fishing days and fishing mortality because of large fluctuations in catchability. The introduction of quotas would lead to stronger regulation of fishing pressure if discarding is prevented. Area restrictions may also help to reduce fishing mortality, but they cause practical problems for the fishing fleets (e.g. high concentrations of vessels in certain areas).

There is a risk that cod and haddock stocks may be overfished during periods with low sandeel abundance. This is because during low prey availability cod and haddock are easier to catch, partly because longline bait becomes a preferential food source. However, recruitment during these periods is low and stocks can decrease rapidly, while CPUE remains high and masks the stock status. The proposed management plan, especially the limits of fishing mortalities, needs to be scrutinised to ensure that it is sustainable.

There are a number of restrictions on where and when different gear types can fish. Due to the serious decline of the Faroe Bank cod, the Bank has been closed since 1 January 2009 for all gears except for a minor jigging fishery during summertime.

A fishing agreement has been in place between the Faroe Islands, the EU, and Norway since 2013. The Faroe Islands are also a member of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC). Vessels listed on the NEAFC Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated list (blacklist”) are not permitted to call at ports, receive services and supplies or change crew members in any port of the member countries of NEAFC.”

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Trawling accounted for 48% of catches in 2018, longlining for 41% and jigging or handlining 11%. The Faroe Islands are responsible for around 95% of catches, with Scotland and Norway catching small amounts.

Faroe Plateau cod and Faroe haddock are caught in a mixed fishery. The Faroe Islands demersal fishery is regulated by technical measures (minimum mesh sizes and closed areas). In order to protect juveniles and young fish, fishing is temporarily (1-2 weeks or more) prohibited in areas where the number of small cod, haddock and saithe exceeds 30% (in numbers) of catches. Sorting devices are required in trawlers fishing inside 12nm to reduce bycatch. Due to the serious decline of the Faroe Bank cod, the Bank has been closed since 1 January 2009 for all gears except for a minor jigging fishery during summertime. Longlining is considered to be a more sustainable option than demersal trawling, as it does not tend to have habitat impacts. Trawling tends to require more fuel per unit of catch, and therefore is associated with higher carbon emissions. However, longlining is associated with bycatch of species such as seabirds. There seems to be little management of longlining to mitigate impacts.

Alternatives

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
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia

References

ICES. 2019. Cod (Gadus morhua) in Subdivision 5.b.1 (Faroe Plateau). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, cap.27.5b1. https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5692. [Accessed on 10.12.2019].

ICES. 2019. North Western Working Group (NWWG). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:14. 826 pp. http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.5298. [Accessed on 10.12.2019].

Faroese Seafood, 2019. Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem. Available at https://www.faroeseseafood.com/fishery-aquaculture/fisheries-in-the-marine-ecosystem/ [Accessed on 10.12.2019].