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 — Irish Sea
Stock detail


Picture of Cod, Atlantic Cod

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

After many years of the stock being depleted in this area, for the first time since the early 1990s, the spawning-stock biomass (SSB) was above MSY Btrigger in 2017. Atlantic cod is listed by OSPAR as a threatened and declining species in the 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

Criterion score: 0 info

Stock Area

Irish Sea

Stock information

This fishery was first closed in 2003 and until this year (2017) the advice has been for no directed fisheries. For the first time since the early 1990s the spawning-stock biomass (SSB) was above MSY Btrigger in 2017. Recruitment remains low and was at its lowest historic value observed in 2016. Fishing pressure (F) has declined since 2012 and has been below FMSY since 2013. There is evidence that the reduction in cod recruitment observed in the Irish Sea since the 1990s may be due to a combination of small spawning-stock biomass and poor environmental conditions, coinciding with a shift towards above-average sea temperatures. The UK Fisheries-Science Partnership (FSP) surveys of the Irish Sea cod spawning grounds in spring 2005-2011, carried out using commercial trawlers, indicated a widespread distribution of cod mostly at low density, but with some localized aggregations. ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2018 should be no more than 1073 tonnes. If discard rates (35%) do not change from the average of the last three years (2014-2016), this implies landings of no more than 695 tonnes.


Criterion score: 0.75 info

There is a long-term management plan agreed by the EU for this stock in 2008. However it is not considered by ICES to be in accordance with the precautionary approach.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

The Irish Sea cod fishery has traditionally been carried out by otter trawls targeting spawning cod in spring and juvenile cod in autumn and winter. Cod is also regularly bycaught in trawl fisheries for nephrops, flatfish and rays. 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. 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. Discard rates in 2016 are estimated at 42% of total catch (78% in 2015) with Nephrops trawls accounting for 74% of landings and 77% of discards.


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)


ICES Advice 2017, Book 5