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 — Iceland
Stock detail — 5a
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Coley, Saithe

Sustainability rating one info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020

The stock is in a good state and fishing pressure is within sustainable limits. Management includes a Harvest Control Rule and a series of closures to protect juveniles and spawning stocks. Bottom trawling can have impacts on habitats such as sponges and soft corals, but closures designed to protect hard corals and hydrothermal vents are in the process of being extended to these areas. There may be bycatch of marine mammals and seabirds by gillnets, the fishery is working to improve recording and mitigation of this. This fishery is Marine Stewardship Council certified.


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 good state, and fishing pressure is within maximum sustainable levels.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) in 2018 was 216,496t, well above the trigger point at which management measures would be needed (MSY Btrigger, 61,000t) and the highest on record. The harvest rate (HR) peaked at 0.455 in 1995, fluctuated between 0.2 and 0.25 from 1998-2012 and then declined to a low of 0.156 in 2016. It has since increased to 0.189 in 2019, but remains below the management target, HRMSY, which is 0.2. Recruitment is estimated to have been above average for most of the past decade.

MFRI advises that when the Icelandic management plan is applied, catches in the fishing year 2020/2021 should be no more than 78,574 tonnes. This is a 2.5% decrease on the previous year’s advice.

The stock was benchmarked and harvest control rules evaluated by ICES in 2019. There is high uncertainty in the estimates of current SSB and fishing mortality, but the management plan has been designed to take these uncertainties into account.

Saithe is often caught as part of the cod fishery, meaning catch limits for cod may be keeping saithe catches low, and also making it likely that saithe quota is being transferred to other species.

As for many other species in recent years, the distribution of saithe has shifted to the north and a large part of the fishing is now conducted northwest of the island.


Criterion score: 0 info

Management measures have successfully reduced fishing pressure and maintained the saithe stock at healthy levels.

The Icelandic Ministry of Industries and Innovation (MII) is responsible for management of the Icelandic fisheries and implementation of legislation. Improved management measures by Iceland for most of its major stocks, including cod, haddock, saithe, redfish and herring have resulted in decreased fishing mortality, increased stocks and reduced pressure on benthic habitats. Harvest Control Rules (HCRs) are in place for cod, haddock, saithe, golden redfish, capelin, spring spawning herring, ling and tusk, and are reviewed every five years. Iceland’s current saithe management plan (HCR) lasts from 2018-2023, and sets TACs with the aim of maintaining MSY. ICES considers it to be precautionary. TACS have been identical to the scientific advice since the first (2013-2018) management plan, but had frequently exceeded advice before that, sometimes significantly. Catches have generally been in line with TACs, even when considering foreign fleets (to whom the TAC does not apply). Since 2013 the total catch has averaged 89% of the TAC. This may be because saithe is difficult to catch and the quota is being transferred to other species such as cod, although there is a limit on how much can be transferred. There have also been changes in the fleet composition that may have lowered saithe catches.

Discards are illegal in Icelandic waters. The estimated discarding of saithe is low, likely because the saithe quota has often been difficult to catch. For the same reason incentive for misreporting is considered to be small.

In addition to TACs, the following closures are in place:
Spawning areas are closed for 2-3 weeks during the spawning season for all fisheries.
Since 1998 the minimum codend mesh size allowed in the trawling fishery has been 135 mm.
The effects of these measures have not been evaluated.

There are a series of measures for monitoring and enforcement, including: publication of individual vessel quotas, independent verification and recording of landings, gear restrictions (and inspections), catch logs, prohibition of discarding in the demersal fishery. There is VMS and the coast guard has powers to intercept and inspect vessels. 25% observer coverage is required on Icelandic vessels on the high seas, and 100% of EU vessels in Icelandic waters.

Saithe is often caught as part of the cod fishery, meaning catch limits for cod may be keeping saithe catches low, and also making it likely that saithe quota is being transferred to other species.

This stock is MSC certified with conditions - see Capture Method tab for details.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

There are a number of measures in place to mitigate impacts of the fishery on non-target species, juveniles, and habitats. However, more needs to be done to guarantee that populations of non-target species aren’t declining or being prevented from recovering owing to this fishery.

In recent years approximately 90% of the saithe has been caught by bottom trawl in mixed fisheries where the goal is often to get as much saithe as possible. Gillnet used to be an important gear in the saithe fisheries but its share has decreased since 1995, mostly due to general reduction in gillnet fisheries, and now accounts for less than 5%. Approximately 90% of catches are from shallower than 300m.

Various measures are in place to protect small fish and vulnerable habitats, e.g. regulations on the type of fishing gear allowed in different areas, minimum mesh sizes, and small-fish sorting grids. If the percentage of small fish in the catch or the by-catch exceeds guideline limits, the relevant fishing area may be closed within a few hours. If small fish or by-catch repeatedly exceeds guideline limits, the relevant area is closed for a longer time. Time, area and gear closures are in place to protect various demersal species’ spawning grounds, and trawling is banned from some areas to protect corals. Sharks and skates are taken as bycatch in Icelandic fisheries, but catch rates are incomplete and the status of stocks is unknown. The endangered Atlantic halibut is impacted by fisheries around Iceland, so a mandatory release of viable halibut and a landings ban were introduced in 2012. Interactions with and impacts on Protected, Endangered and Threatened species by the fishery are very unlikely. The effects of otter trawling in Iceland have been investigated and the results suggested that only a few species were affected by it.

100% of Icelandic saithe landed by the Icelandic fleet is MSC certified. There are conditions on the fishery relating to impacts of some of gillnetting: estimates of bycatch of marine mammals and seabirds are uncertain, and better recording is needed. Some mitigation measures have been tested, but were unsuccessful.
There are no significant concerns regarding the impact of bottom trawling. There are closed areas to protect hard corals and hydrothermal vents, and these protections are being extended to other biogenic habitats such as deep-sea sponges and soft. Recent research (published in 2018) has led to a series of recommendations being adopted by the government regarding closed areas and gears.


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
Sturgeon (Farmed)


Government of Iceland, 2019a. Management Strategy and Harvest Control Rules Available at [Accessed on 07.07.2020]

Government of Iceland, 2019b. Statement on Responsible Fisheries in Iceland. Available at [Accessed on 07.07.2020]

Gaudian, G., Gascoigne, J., Medley, P.A.H., O´Boyle, R., Cappell, R., le Roux, L. 2019. ISF Iceland Multi-Species Demersal Fishery: Public Certification Report. Carried out by Vottunarstofan Tún ehf. Published on 10 September 2019. Available at [Accessed on 08.07.2020].

ICES, 2019. ICES Ecosystem Overviews: Icelandic Waters Ecoregion. Published 12 December 2019. Available at [Accessed on 07.07.2020].

MFRI, 2019. State of Marine Stocks and Advice 2019: Fisheries Overview. Marine and Freshwater Research Institute. Published 13 June 2019. Available at [Accessed on 07.07.2020].

MFRI, 2020. State of Marine Stocks and Advice 2020: Saithe, Pollachius virens. Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, published 16 June 2020. Available at [Accessed on 08.07.2020].

MFRI, 2020. MFRI Assessment Reports 2020: Saithe, Pollachius virens. Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, published 16 June 2020. [Accessed on 08.07.2020].

Reeves, S. A., Bell, J. B., Cambie, G., Davie, S. L., Dolder, P., Hyder, K., Pontalier, H., Radford Z. and Vaughan, D., 2018. An international review of fisheries management regimes. Cefas. Issued 2 August 2018. Available at [Accessed on 07.07.2020].