Coley, Saithe

Pollachius virens

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Northeast Arctic
Stock detail — 1, 2
Picture of Coley, Saithe

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

The stock is in a good state, and fishing is within sustainable limits. There is a management plan for this stock, and Total Allowable Catches (TACs) are in line with scientific advice, but recent catches have exceeded the TACs by around 5%. The main concern in this fishery is the bycatch of coastal cod and golden redfish (Sebastes norvegicus): both stocks are in a poor state and golden redfish is listed as endangered.

There are numerous MSC certifications for cod, haddock and saithe fisheries in this area, some of which are required to take action to reduce golden redfish bycatch.


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: 0.25 info

Stock Area

Northeast Arctic

Stock information

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) in 2018 was 494,841 tonnes, and fishing mortality (F) was 0.23. For this stock, there are no reference points for stock size or fishing mortality that would be in line with Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). Bpa and Fpa (precautionary limits) are used instead. SSB has been above Bpa, which is 220,000t, since 1996. F has been below Fpa, which is 0.35, since 2013. Recruitment of young fish into the stock has been close to the long-term average for the last decade.

ICES advises that when the Norwegian management plan is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 171 982 tonnes. This is a 15% on the previous year, which is the maximum that Total Allowable Catches can change from year to the next. The advised catch for 2020 is higher than in 2019 because the stock is estimated to be larger.


Criterion score: 0.25 info

Management of Saithe in subareas 1 and 2 is by TAC and technical measures.

There is a Harvest Control Rule for this fishery, applied by the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, which ICES considers to be precautionary. The target fishing mortality changes depending on the size of the stock, and Total Allowable Catches (TACs) are set as averages for the coming three years based on that target mortality. This is updated every year, with a 15% cap on changes in TAC if the stock is in a good state. While TACs are set in line with scientific advice, catches have exceeded them by an average of 5% over the past 5 years. Discarding, although illegal, does occur in the saithe fishery, but not at significant levels. There are reported incidents of slipping in the purse-seine fishery, mainly related to minimum landing size. Observations from non-Norwegian commercial trawlers indicate that discarding may occur when vessels targeting other species catch saithe, for which they may not have a quota or have filled it.

Increased surveillance and monitoring at sea and in the air by both Russian and Norwegian authorities, including greater participation by regulation-compliant fishing vessels, and greater cooperation from receiving port authorities, has more or less eradicated Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing in the Barents Sea.

There are numerous Marine Stewardship Council certified cod, haddock and saithe fisheries in this area, so look for these products for the most sustainable options.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

In 2018, trawl accounted for 46% of the catch, purse seine: 20%, and gillnet: 16%. The majority of catches are taken by Norway (90% in 2018), with much of the rest (8%) by Russia.

The bycatch of endangered golden redfish (Sebastes norvegicus) in the Northeast Arctic (NEA) saithe fishery is a considerable part of the total golden redfish catch. An estimated sustainable catch would be 1,500t: total 2018 catch of golden redfish was 6,647t. Measures to minimise bycatch of this species are essential. Bycatch of coastal cod should also be kept as low as possible in order to promote rebuilding of that stock (see MCS’s Atlantic Cod: Norwegian Coast rating for details).

Juvenile saithe tend to stay near the coast, making them inaccessible to commercial fisheries and so bycatch of juveniles is not a major concern.

The fishery is regulated by a minimum catch size (which varies by gear and area), a minimum mesh size and a maximum bycatch of undersized fish. Since January 1997, sorting grids have been mandatory for the trawl fisheries in most of the Barents Sea and Svalbard area. There are real-time closures of areas with high densities of juveniles, where the proportion by number of undersized cod, haddock, and saithe combined has been observed by inspectors to exceed 15%. The area is reopened after trial fishing shows the proportion to have reduced to below 15%. There are also seasonal and area restrictions.

While trawling does have seabed impacts, fishers tend to avoid areas containing vulnerable species such as sponge because these affect the quality of the catch. There are designated MPAs in Norwegian and Russian waters, within which all fishing is prohibited. It is an offence for any fishing vessel to fish on or in close proximity to known areas of coral reef or coral garden. Norwegian vessels report the presence of cold-water corals or sponges in a catch and then move 2-5 miles away to continue fishing - this is monitored through Vessel Monitoring Systems.

In recent years, changes in the ice cover due to ocean warming means, that potentially more areas of seabed would be available for trawling which had not been trawled in previous years.

There are numerous Marine Stewardship Council certified cod, haddock and saithe fisheries in this area, some of which have a focus on reducing golden redfish bycatch.


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)


ICES. 2019. Arctic Fisheries Working Group (AFWG). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:30. 930 pp. doi: 10.17895/ Available at [Accessed on 11.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Saithe (Pollachius virens) in subareas 1 and 2 (Northeast Arctic). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, pok.27.1-2, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4714. Available at [Accessed on 11.07.2019].

Seafish, 2017. RASS Profile: Northeast Arctic saithe (ICES subarea 1 and 2), demersal otter trawl. Available at [Accessed on 11.07.2019]