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 — 7a
Picture of Cod, Atlantic Cod

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

Irish Sea cod is now data limited, whereas in previous years it has received a full assessment. The stock size is at its lowest point since 1993, but it is not being subjected to overfishing. There is therefore little or no directed fishery for cod in the Irish Sea. Most catches are from demersal trawling for whitefish, followed by bycatch in Nephrops trawlers. Discarding of this stock has been very high (around 40% of the catch), and historically has been mostly juveniles, which can have additional impacts on the stock. Trawling can have high levels of bycatch, although there are some measures in place to improve selectivity. It can also have significant habitat impacts. There is a seasonal closure of the spawning grounds for cod in the western Irish 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

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Stock Area

Irish Sea

Stock information

Unlike in previous years, the stock is now data limited, and there are no reference points for assessing biomass and fishing pressure against Maximum Sustainable Yield. The stock size is at its lowest point since 1993, but it is not being subjected to overfishing. Cod has a medium level of resilience to fishing pressure.

Spawning stock biomass is now at its lowest since the beginning of the time series in 1993. The harvest rate has been decreasing since the 1990s, but increased in 2018. Catches since 2000 have been low and decreasing.

ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 116 tonnes. Catch advice is based on average catches from 2016-2018, plus an uncertainty cap and a precautionary buffer. It results in an 86% decrease in advice. This is a different approach to previous years, as the previous stock assessment was considered to be too uncertain: it overestimated stock abundance and underestimated fishing mortality, so the stock moved to a data limited category. The status of the stock in future years is very uncertain.

From 2000-2017 a 0 catch was advised, and TACs gradually reduced from being in the thousands to being in the hundreds. In 2018, the advised catch limit was 1073t, and the TAC was 695t. Catches were about 37% of the TAC. The 2019 TAC was in line with the advice for 807t. Since 2013, landings have stayed within TACs but discards have been significant, averaging around 40% of total catch.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

The European Parliament and the Council have published a multiannual management plan (MAP) for the Western Waters, which applies to demersal stocks including cod in the Irish Sea. The MAP stipulates that when the FMSY ranges are not available the precautionary approach should be applied, as is the case with this stock. The MAP repeals and replaces the Irish Sea cod management plan.

At present there is no commercial towed gear fishery for cod permitted. From 2000-2017 a 0 catch was advised, and TACs gradually reduced from being in the thousands to being in the hundreds. In 2018, the advised catch limit was 1073t, and the TAC was 695t. Catches were about 37% of the TAC. The 2019 TAC was in line with the advice for 807t. Since 2013, landings have stayed within TACs but discards have been significant, averaging around 40% of total catch. Discarding has historically been of young fish, aged 0 and 1, below the minimum conservation reference size of 35cm.

Since 2009, Irish landings of cod reported from ICES rectangles immediately north of the Irish Sea/Celtic Sea boundary (ICES rectangles 33E2 and 33E3) have been reallocated into the Celtic Sea as they represent a combination of inaccurate area reporting and catches of cod considered by ICES to be part of the Celtic Sea stock. Therefore, the stock assessment and management areas do not quite match.


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

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Most catches are by England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland.

Irish Sea fisheries are predominantly demersal trawling and seining. Demersal trawling for whitefish accounts for the majority of Irish Sea cod landings, followed by bycatch in Nephrops trawlers. Effort using fishing gear with ?100 mm mesh sizes is currently at a low level compared to historic activity. Trawling can have high levels of bycatch, although there are some measures in place to improve selectivity. It can also have significant habitat impacts.

A seasonal closure of the spawning grounds for cod in the eastern and western Irish Sea between February and April was implemented in 2000 to protect vulnerable adults from fishing activities during the spawning period. The size of the closed area was subsequently reduced to cover only the western Irish Sea from 2001 onwards. Discarding in this fishery has been significant, and historically has comprised juveniles (see Management tab). The minimum conservation reference size for cod in EU waters 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
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia

References

EU, 2019. Regulation (EU) 2019/472 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 March 2019 establishing a multiannual plan for stocks fished in the Western Waters and adjacent waters, and for fisheries exploiting those stocks. Available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1554387217276&uri=CELEX:32019R0472 [Accessed on 12.07.2019].

Froese R. and Pauly D. (Editors), 2019. Gadus morhua, Atlantic cod. Available at: https://www.fishbase.se/summary/Gadus-morhua.html [Accessed on 10.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Working Group for the Celtic Seas Ecoregion (WGCSE). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:29. 1078 pp. doi: 10.17895/ices.pub.4982. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2019/WGCSE/01_WGCSE_2019.pdf [Accessed on 11.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Cod (Gadus morhua) in Division 7.a (Irish Sea). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, cod.27.7a, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4781. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/cod.27.7a.pdf [Accessed on 11.07.2019].

Seafish, 2019. RASS Profile: Atlantic cod, Division 7a (Irish Sea), Demersal otter trawl. Available at https://www.seafish.org/risk-assessment-for-sourcing-seafood/profile/atlantic-cod-division-7a-irish-sea-demersal-otter-trawl [Accessed on 11.07.2019]