Coley, Saithe

Pollachius virens

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Gill or fixed net
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Northeast Arctic
Stock detail — 1, 2
Picture of Coley, Saithe

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020

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 4%. The main concern in the trawl 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. Gillnets may have a bycatch of seabirds and marine mammals, although interactions are thought to be low. Purse seiners may also have a bycatch of coastal cod, but catch levels are not thought to be a significant impact on the population. 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 info

The stock is in a very healthy state, and fishing pressure is consistent with sustainable levels.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) in 2020 is 552,168 tonnes, which is well above the management target of 220,000 tonnes. Fishing mortality (F) in 2019 was 0.23, below the management target of 0.32. The reference points for this stock are based on the Norwegian management plan, rather than Maximum Sustainable Yield. ICES has evaluated the management plan and found it to be precautionary. 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 2021 should be no more than 197,779 tonnes. This is a 15% increase on the previous year, which is the maximum that Total Allowable Catches can change from year to the next.


Criterion score: 0.25 info

Management appears to be following scientific advice and controlling the fishery, although recent catches are marginally above the limits set by managers.

The main management measure for this stock is the Norwegian Management Plan. It includes a Harvest Control Rule, which uses the predicted stock size for the next fishing year and the target fishing pressure to predict catches across the next three years. The average of these catches is used to calculate TACs, which must not change by more than 15% from one year to the next. ICES evaluated this HCR in 2014 and concluded that it is precautionary. While TACs are set in line with the management plan and scientific advice, catches have exceeded them by an average of 4% 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 saithe tend to stay near the coast, making them inaccessible to commercial fisheries and so bycatch of juveniles is not a major concern.

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: 0.5 info

The main environmental impact of concern in the saithe gillnet fishery is the bycatch of seabirds and harbour porpoise, although interactions are thought to be low.

Trawling accounts for around 40-50% of the total catch, and purse seine and gillnet 15-20% each. The majority of catches are taken by Norway, with much of the rest by Russia.

Bycatch of golden redfish in the saithe fishery is of concern, but most of the catch is taken by trawling, not gillnetting.

This fishery is regulated by a minimum catch size (which varies by gear and area), a minimum mesh size (180mm for gillnets) and a maximum bycatch of undersized fish. 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. Gillnets are highly size selective, either not retaining fish small enough to pass through the meshes or not admitting fish that are too large.

Gillnets can have a bycatch of seabirds, although interactions are estimated to be low. However, even a low bycatch may be a threat to red-listed species such as common guillemot, white-billed diver, and Steller’s eider. The harbour porpoise is also subject to bycatch in gillnet fisheries targeting cod, monkfish, and saithe, estimated to be around 7000 individuals in the Barents Sea; the impact on population is, however, not known. Ghost fishing from gillnets can also be a problem, as if lost they can continue to ‘fish’ for several weeks.

Gillnets don’t tend to have significant habitat impacts, with the main interaction being from anchors to keep the nets in place. 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.

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
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish, White
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Spurdog, Spiny Dogfish, Dogfish, Rock Salmon or Flake
Sturgeon (Farmed)


ICES. 2019. Barents Sea Ecosystem – Fisheries overview. In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, Section 5.2. 28 pp. Available at [Accessed on 01.07.2020].

ICES. 2020. Saithe (Pollachius virens) in subareas 1 and 2 (Northeast Arctic). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, pok.27.1-2. Available at [Accessed on 01.07.2020].

ICES. 2020. Arctic Fisheries Working Group (AFWG). ICES Scientific Reports. 2:52. 577 pp. Available at [Accessed on 30.06.2020].

Seafish, 2017. RASS Profile: Northeast Arctic saithe (ICES subarea 1 and 2), demersal otter trawl. Available at [Accessed on 01.07.2020]

Seafish, 2017. RASS Profile: Northeast Arctic saithe (ICES subarea 1 and 2), Gillnets. Available at [Accessed on 01.07.2020]