Coley, Saithe

Pollachius virens

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea, West of Scotland and Rockall, Skagerrak
Stock detail — 4, 6, 3a
Picture of Coley, Saithe

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

The stock is in a good state and fishing pressure is at sustainable levels. However, there is a lot of discarding of unwanted saithe in this fishery, so compliance with the discard ban needs to be better enforced. Bottom trawling could damage vulnerable marine environments and because this is a mixed demersal fishery, there could be bycatch of vulnerable species such as cod.


Coley or saithe belongs to the same family as cod and haddock. Coley usually enters coastal waters in spring and returns to deeper water in winter. They spawn from January to March at about 200m depth along the northern shelf edge and the western edge of the Norwegian deeps. Saithe can grow up to 130cm. It is a long-lived species and can reach ages of more than 25 years. They become sexually mature when 5-10 years old and 60-70cm long.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

Stock Area

North Sea, West of Scotland and Rockall, Skagerrak

Stock information

The stock is in a good state, and fishing pressure is at sustainable levels.

Spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has been fairly consistently around 200,000-300,000t since 1997 and in 2018 was 223,515t, comfortably above the lower threshold (MSY BTrigger = 149,098t). Fishing mortality (F) has decreased from a peak of 0.74 in 1986 to stabilise at or below FMSY (0.363) from 2014 onwards - in 2018 it was 0.36. Recruitment of young fish into the fishery has been decreasing, with the lowest levels on record occurring during the past 10 years.
ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2019 should not exceed 103,327t and in 2020 should not exceed 88,093 t. In 2018 catch was 86,824t and the Total Allowable Catch was 105,793t plus a 12.5% top-up to allow for the landings obligation. The 2020 advice is a 14.7% form the previous year, mainly owing to a downward revision in stock size and the low incoming recruitment. Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and catch recording are split between areas 4 and 3a (North Sea, Skagerrak and Kattegat) and 6 (Rockall and West of Scotland) based on average landings in 1993-1998: 90.6% to areas 4 & 3a, 9.4% to area 6. Catches generally stay within TACs, and TACs have been set in line with scientific advice.


Criterion score: 0.25 info

While the stock is in a good state, and fishing pressure is at sustainable levels, there is a high level of discarding taking place.

This stock is covered by the EU’s North Sea Multi Annual management Plan (MAP), and although the MAP has not been adopted by Norway, joint TACs are agreed through the EU-Norway Agreement. Saithe TACs in recent years have been set in line with the ICES advice, catches generally stay within TACs, and F is at FMSY. TACs and catch recording are split between areas 4 and 3a (North Sea, Skagerrak and Kattegat) and 6 (Rockall and West of Scotland) based on average landings in 1993-1998: 90.6% to areas 4 & 3a, 9.4% to area 6. In 2018 catch was 86,824t and the Total Allowable Catch was 105,793t plus a 12.5% top-up to allow for the landings obligation. Despite the top-up, substantial discarding still continues in Subarea 4, based on observations from sampling programmes (estimated unwanted catch for 2018 is 7649 tonnes in Subarea 4 and Division 3.a; 8.7% of the total catch). Among other things, this can lead to inaccurate figures for catch, which can reduce the accuracy of stock assessments.

A Fully Documented Fishery Scheme is in place in Scotland, intended to monitor discarding of saithe and monkfish, but only 3 demersal vessels participated in 2017 and none 2018.

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: 0.75 info

In 2018, bottom trawling accounted for 90% of the catch (mainly taken by Norway, Germany, and France) and gillnetting for just 4.8%. Saithe in this stock are predominantly targeted in demersal fisheries in the northern North Sea, western Skagerrak and West of Scotland, concentrated offshore on the shelf and along the shelf edge. The main likely impact of this fishery is damaging deep sea habitats, such as deep-sea corals and sponges. There are a number of Marine Protected Areas to protect seabed features in UK waters, but MCS is concerned that that these sites are not being well managed. We do not currently have evidence to confirm that MPAs are being subjected to bottom trawling by this fishery, but we strongly urge suppliers and buyers to confirm where their fish has been caught, and if it is legally from with an MPA, to request evidence that no damage was caused to the protected features of the site.

Since saithe do not enter the fishery until after they migrate offshore at age three, and are usually found in dense shoals of fish of similar size, there is rarely a problem with catching fish below the minimum legal landing size of 35 cm in the North Sea and west of Scotland and 30 cm in the Skagerrak. ICES and STECF data indicate that the demersal otter trawl roundfish-directed fishery has the biggest impact on the North Sea cod stock, and therefore cod bycatch is of concern in this fishery. Limited information is available on levels of incidental bycatch of prohibited species (for example common skate and starry ray), marine mammals and birds, and other non-target species. Under the North Sea MAP, bycatch species should be managed under the precautionary approach if scientific information is not available, and otherwise managed according to the key CFP objectives. If stocks fall below trigger levels, measures can be brought in such as limits on characteristics or use of gear (e.g. mesh size, depth); time/area closures; and minimum conservation reference sizes.

Mitigation measures include: minimum 120mm mesh size in the northern North Sea and seasonal closures to protect spawning stocks (spawning cod, in particular). For cod, haddock, saithe and whiting in the North Sea and Skagerrak, if more than 10% of the catch by weight is juveniles (smaller than 35cm, 30cm, 35cm, or 27cm respectively), the area in which they were caught is closed for 3 weeks.


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)


EU, 2011. Regulation (EU) No 783/2011 of 5 August 2011 amending Regulation (EU) No 724/2010 laying down detailed rules for the implementation of real-time closures of certain fisheries in the North Sea and Skagerrak. Available at [Accessed on 02.07.2019].

EU, 2018. Regulation 2018/973 establishing a multiannual plan for demersal stocks in the North Sea and the fisheries exploiting those stocks. Available at [Accessed on 02.07.2019].

EU, 2019. Bilateral Agreements: Norway Northern Agreement. Available at [Accessed on 02.07.2019].

ICES, 2018. ICES Stock Annex: Cod (Gadus morhua) in Subarea 4 and divisions 7.d and 20 (North Sea, eastern English Channel, Skagerrak). cod.27.47d20_SA. Revised: May 2018. Available at [Accessed on 30.07.2019].

ICES, 2018. Report of the Working Group on the Assessment of Demersal Stocks in the North Sea and Skagerrak (WGNSSK), 24 April - 3 May 2018, Oostende, Belgium. ICES CM 2018/ACOM: 22pp. Available at [Accessed on 02.07.2019].

ICES, 2019. Saithe (Pollachius virens) in subareas 4 and 6, and in Division 3.a (North Sea, Rockall and West of Scotland, Skagerrak and Kattegat). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, pok.27.3a46. doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4872. Available at [Accessed on 02.07.2029].

Seafish, 2018. RASS Profile: Saithe in North Sea, Rockall, West of Scotland and Skagerrak, Demersal otter trawl. Available at [Accessed on 02.07.2019]

WWF, 2019. Remote Electronic Monitoring in UK Fisheries Management 2017. Available at [Accessed on 02.07.2019].