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 — West of Scotland
Stock detail — 6a
Picture of Cod, Atlantic Cod

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

The stock in this area is depleted and ICES advises that there be zero catches in each of the years 2018 and 2019. Although discard rates are reported to be decreasing, they remain high at 60% (average 2014-2016) of the total catch. Avoid eating cod from depleted stocks.


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: 1 info

Stock Area

West of Scotland

Stock information

The spawning stock biomass for cod in this area has been below Blim since 1997. The stock is assessed as being depleted. Total mortality on the stock is high. Fishing mortality is above target and the stock harvested unsustainably. Almost half of the catch was discarded in 2016. ICES advises that there should be zero catches in each of the years 2018 and 2019. Atlantic cod is listed by OSPAR as a threatened and declining species in Greater North Sea and Celtic Sea. Avoid eating cod caught in this area.


Criterion score: 0.75 info

Cod in this area is subject to a long-term management plan. The fishery is managed by a combination of Total Allowable Catch (TAC), area closures, e.g. Clyde Sea and ‘Windsock’ closed area, technical measures and effort restrictions. Management measures taken thus far have not recovered the stock. The zero TAC for this area and 1.5% bycatch by live weight limit implemented since 2012 applies to the retained part of the catches; neither of these measures constrains catches. The proportion of the total catch that is discarded has increased since 2005, and discards now account for over 60% (average 2014-2016) of the total catch. Ironically, the increase in mesh size from 100 to 120mm for vessels fishing for cod has caused fishermen to switch from whitefish to Nephrops, which are fished using smaller mesh nets, resulting in an increase in effort using 80mm nets. Nephrops trawlers account for 0.95% of landings from this fishery and 31% of the discards. Previous problems with Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing have been removed by the implementation of the Registration of Buyers and Sellers in 2005.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

95% of the cod catch is taken in trawl fisheries targeting finfish in the area. Discard rates remain high at 60%, with otter trawls accounting for 63% of the 852t discarded in 2016 (1311 t in 2014). Discard rates in previous years are not dissimilar, although much improved when compared to the situation in 2011 when 8% was reported landings and the rest (92%) discards. The minimum landing size for cod in EU waters 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
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)


ICES (2018). ICES Advice on fishing opportunities, catch, and effort Celtic Seas Ecoregion. Published 30 June 2017. (Accessed July 2018);
ICES Advice 2017, Book 5