Cod, Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Poundnet
Capture area — North West Atlantic (FAO 21)
Stock area — West Greenland
Stock detail — NAFO Sub area 1: Inshore
Picture of Cod, Atlantic Cod

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020 

The cod caught around Greenland is from four separate stocks, which are defined based on where they spawn: Offshore Western Greenland; Inshore West Greenland (aka West Greenland fiords); Offshore Eastern and South Greenland; Inshore Icelandic waters. The proportional contribution of each stock to catches is highly uncertain, but is estimated to be 50% inshore West Greenland, 30% offshore West Greenland, and 20% East Greenland / Iceland. The inshore West Greenland stock is not currently in an overfished state, but stock size is declining and fishing pressure is well above sustainable levels. Management measures are not controlling this fishery and are not following scientific advice. One total allowable catch is set for all inshore West Greenland, rather than for individual stocks, preventing overexploitation of the most vulnerable stocks. When the fishery has reached the TAC in the past, the TAC has simply been increased, and therefore the fishery is effectively unlimited. Catches on the inshore stock are likely to be double the recommended limit. Poundnets have a low environmental impact, but the inshore fishery has significant bycatch of the depleted offshore West Greenland cod stock and is likely to be preventing or prolonging its recovery.

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

The cod caught around Greenland is from four separate stocks, which are defined based on where they spawn: Offshore Western Greenland; Inshore West Greenland (aka West Greenland fiords); Offshore Eastern and South Greenland; Inshore Icelandic waters. The proportional contribution of each stock to catches is highly uncertain. This rating is for inshore West Greenland. This stock is not currently in an overfished state, but stock size is declining and fishing pressure is above sustainable levels.

In 2020, the spawning stock biomass is 27,165 tonnes, well above MSY Btrigger (5,983 t) but well below the 2015 peak of 47,000 tonnes. Recruitment of young fish into the stock has been declining since 2010. Fishing mortality has been consistently above FMSY (0.27) and in 2019 was 0.69. No reference point has been defined for Flim, so MCS methodology defines Flim as 1.4 FMSY. Current fishing pressure is 2.6 FMSY, and so MCS judges fishing pressure to be above Flim. The high fishing pressure and low recruitment is expected to continue to cause the stock to decline.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2021 should be no more than 5,283 tonnes. This is a 4.6% decrease on the advice for the previous year. However, recent catches in the inshore area have been 20,000-30,000 tonnes, and it is estimated that 50% of the catch is from the inshore stock.

One Total Allowable Catch is set for all cod caught in NAFO inshore, rather than assigned to the individual stocks, as it is very difficult to distinguish between stocks in catches. Owing to this mixing, and the difficulty of assessing the levels of catches of the individual stocks, the stock assessment is highly uncertain, and may be overestimating the stock size of inshore West Greenland cod. New genetic investigations of especially the inshore component reveals that the West Greenland offshore component is mixing with the inshore component to a larger extent than previously thought. A benchmark of the assessment is planned for 2022, when there will be consideration of combining the inshore and offshore stocks into one analytical assessment.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Management measures are not controlling this fishery and are not following scientific advice.

There is no management plan for West Greenland cod. One Total Allowable Catch is set for all cod caught in the inshore area. However, catches are likely to comprise 4 different stocks, one of which is the highly depleted offshore West Greenland cod. ICES advice is for zero catch of the offshore stock, but no management measures are in place to protect it. In addition, TAC for the inshore fishery can be transferred to the offshore fishery, which has a much higher chance of catching offshore West Greenland cod.

TACs for inshore cod have averaged 33,000 tonnes since 2016, but catches have averaged 26,000 tonnes. Furthermore, historically, when TACS have been reached, the TAC has simply been increased, effectively making this fishery unlimited. In 2017 it was estimated that around 50% of catches come from the inshore West Greenland stock, which would mean an average catch of 13,000 since 2016. Scientific advice for this stock has averaged 10,000, but in 2020 and 2021 it is around 5,000t owing to ongoing stock decline and low recruitment. If the current fishing pressure on the inshore stock is maintained it would equate to catches of 10,697 t in 2021, which would result in a decrease in the spawning stock biomass by 26% in 2022.

Given that the fishery is unlimited, there is no incentive to discard fish or misreport catches under the current management system. Small cod released from the poundnets survive, so catches of juveniles in the poundnet fishery (61% of catch) are low.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 1 info

Poundnets have a low environmental impact, but this fishery has significant bycatch of the depleted offshore West Greenland cod stock and is likely to be preventing or prolonging its recovery.

Most of the inshore West Greenland cod fishery is by poundnets, accounting for 61% of the catches followed by longlines (22%), hooks (13%) and gill nets (4%). Approximately 78% of the total catch is caught from May–October with a peak in June–July. Due to ice, poundnets are replaced by jigs, longlines and gill nets during November–April. Trawling is not allowed within 3 nm of the coast.

A poundnet is a static gear used in coastal areas. It comprises a crib or pound, where the trapped fish are held, a heart-shaped section that funnels fish into the pound, and a leader - a long straight section that leads fish offshore towards the crib. This method has a low habitat impact and bycatch of other species, as it is easy to release unwanted and below-minimum-size catch. However, it is estimated that a considerable proportion (30%) of the inshore cod catch is from the West Greenland offshore cod stock, which is in a depleted condition and the current ICES advice is zero catch. A continued high fishing pressure in the inshore areas can prolong the recovery time of the offshore stock. 20% of the inshore catches belongs to the East Greenland/Icelandic stock. It is assumed that a large part of these cod migrate to East Greenland/Iceland to spawn. The spawning stock in East Greenland has in recent years declined. A continued high fishing pressure in the inshore areas can have a negative influence on the spawning stock in East Greenland.

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
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish, White
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia

References

ICES, 2018. Report of the InterBenchmark Protocol on Greenland Cod (IBPGCod), 8–9 January 2018. ICES IBPGCod Report 2018. Copenhagen, Denmark. ICES CM 2018/ACOM: 30. 205 pp. Available at: http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/acom/2018/IBPGCod/IBP_GreenlandCod_2018.pdf [Accessed on 02.07.2020]

ICES. 2020. Cod (Gadus morhua) in NAFO Subarea 1, inshore (West Greenland cod). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, cod.21.1. Available at https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5915 [Accessed on 02.07.2020].

ICES. 2020. North Western Working Group (NWWG). Draft Report. ICES Scientific Reports. 2:51. 431 pp. Available at http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.6051 [Accessed on 02.07.2020].