Cod, Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Kattegat
Stock detail — 3a.21
Picture of Cod, Atlantic Cod

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

Default red rating: Cod in the Kattegat is at a historically low level, as is recruitment of young fish entering the stock, and the advice is for 0 catch in 2020. Fishing pressure has recently increased. Cod is mainly caught as bycatch in the Nephrops fishery. While there used to be incentives for highly selective gear that would reduce cod catches, these have been removed. Discards of cod include a high proportion of young fish (aged 1 and 2). There is no management or recovery plan in place for this stock, resulting in a Critical Fail.


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: Critical fail info

Stock Area


Stock information

The stock is in a poor state, and will continue to decline even with no fishing pressure.

The assessment is indicative of trends only, and reference points have not been defined for biomass or fishing pressure. However, spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has decreased since 2015 and it is at an historically low level in 2019. Fishing mortality has increased since 2015. Recruitment (R) in the last six years has been below average, and the last two year classes are the lowest level observed. SSB is likely to decline further in 2020, even with no catches.

From 2002-2016, advice for this stock was 0 catch, but throughout this period TACs were set and catches continued. In 2020 the stock has again returned to 0 catch advice, following ICES precautionary approach.

Unreported catches have historically been a concern for this stock, and have been estimated as part of the unaccounted removals in the assessment model. Unaccounted removals also include North Sea cod, which use the area as nursery and migrate back to the North Sea for spawning, as well as possible increased natural mortality from seal predation. It is not possible to estimate relative contributions of fishing mortality, natural mortality and migration and so the level of fishing mortality remains unknown.

Cod has a medium resilience to fishing pressure.


There is no management or recovery plan in place for this stock, which is at historically low levels. This has resulted in a Critical Fail and the stock has received a default red rating.

There is no targeted cod fishery in Kattegat at present, and cod is mainly taken as bycatch in the Norway lobster fishery. This implies that the fishing mortality of the stock is linked to effort directed to the Norway lobster fishery - for which the TAC has increased substantially in recent years. There was a fishing effort regulation as part of the cod long-term management plan, which appeared to be effective, but this has not been in place since 2016. The Swedish sorting grid, one of the incentivised gears under the plan, has a bycatch of less than 1.5% of cod in the Norway lobster fishery and was extensively used in previous years. The removal of the effort system, however, reduced the incentives to use this gear. There are other gears available that successfully reduce cod bycatches from flatfish catches; however, these gears are not in use at present.

TACs for 2020 have not yet been agreed, so it remains to be seen whether the advice for 0 catch will be followed.

In 2018, the estimated discards formed about 25% of the catch weight and the proportion of discards in catch has decreased the last year compared to the previous years. However, in numbers, close to 77% of the cod caught in the Kattegat is discarded, mostly affecting ages 1-2.

In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.
The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota ‘uplift’ being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.
Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels.
The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.
The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

There is no directed cod fishery in Kattegat. Cod is landed mainly by trawlers (87%) and is taken as bycatch in the Nephrops fishery (see Management Tab).

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. Since January 2003 the basic minimum mesh size for towed gears for cod has been 120mm. 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
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)


Froese R. and Pauly D. (Editors), 2019. Gadus morhua, Atlantic cod. Available at: [Accessed on 10.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Cod (Gadus morhua) in Subdivision 21 (Kattegat). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, cod.27.21, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4745. Available at [Accessed on 10.07.2019].

ICES, 2019. Baltic Fisheries Assessment Working Group (WGBFAS). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:20. 651 pp. doi: 10.17895/ Available at [Accessed on 10.07.2019].