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 — 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.

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

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.

Management

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

Cod are taken by towed gears in mixed demersal fisheries. Cod are targeted by some fleets, but are also caught as part of mixed fisheries catching haddock, whiting, Nephrops, plaice, and sole. There is a potential for 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. Cod discards have declined from 45% in 2008 to 24% reported in 2016 as a proportion of the total cod catches by weight. 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.

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
Bass, seabass (Farmed)
Bream, Gilthead (Farmed)
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Japanese amberjack, Yellowtail or Seriola
Pollack or Lythe
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Pouting or Bib
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia
Whiting

References

ICES Advice 2017, Book 6 http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2017/2017/cod.27.47d20.pdf;
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32016R2250&from=EN