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 2019.

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. Better monitoring of the impacts of gillnetting on marine mammals and seabirds, and bottom trawling on habitats such as sponges and soft corals is needed. This fishery has been Marine Stewardship Council certified since 2014, although there are conditions on it relating to the aforementioned impacts (see Capture Methods tab for details).


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


Stock information

The stock is in a very good state, and fishing pressure is within maximum sustainable levels.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) in 2018 was 203,216t, 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) has declined from a peak of 0.32 in 2008 and is presently 0.18, below HRMSY (0.2). Recruitment is estimated to have been above average for most of the past decade. ICES advises that when the Iceland management plan is applied, catches in the fishing year September 2019 - August 2020 should not exceed 80,588 tonnes, well above the 5-year average catch of 52,000t. Iceland’s management plans calculate Total Allowable Catches (TACs) based on a stock-specific Harvest Control Rule, with the aim of maintaining MSY, and ICES considers the saithe plan (which runs from 2018-2023) to be precautionary. 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. At the onset of the previous (2013-2018) management plan, TACs were brought into line with scientific advice. Prior to this, TACs had frequently exceeded advice, sometimes significantly. Catches have generally been in line with TACs, especially since 2013.

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.


Criterion score: 0 info

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

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 in line with the aim of maintaining MSY. ICES considers it to be precautionary. TACS have been in line with scientific advice since the first (2013-2018) management plan, but had frequently exceeded advice, sometimes significantly, prior to that. Catches have generally been in line with TACs, especially since 2013.

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

In 2018 bottom trawling accounted for 92% of the catch, while gillnetting accounted for just 3%.

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 concerns regarding the impact of bottom trawling. While there are closed areas to protect hard corals, protections for other biogenic habitats such as deep-sea sponges and soft corals are not in place. Recent research (published in 2018) has led to a series of recommendations being adopted by the government regarding closed areas and gears, but it is too early to tell if these will be effective.


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)


Government of Iceland, 2019a. Management Strategy and Harvest Control Rules Available at [Accessed on 28.06.2019]

Government of Iceland, 2019b. Statement on Responsible Fisheries in Iceland. Available at [Accessed on 28.06.2019]

ICES, 2018. ICES Ecosystem Overviews: Icelandic Waters Ecoregion. Published 14 December 2018. doi: 10.17895/ Available at [Accessed on 28.06.2019].

ICES. 2019a. Saithe (Pollachius virens) in Division 5.a (Iceland grounds). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, pok.27.5a, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4736. Available at [Accessed on 01.07.2019].

ICES, 2019b. North Western Working Group (NWWG) 2019 Report. ICES Scientific Reports 1:14. 605 pp. doi: 10.17895/ Available at [Accessed on 01.07.2019].

MSC, 2019. Marine Stewardship Council: ISF Iceland saithe, ling, Atlantic wolffish and plaice. Available at [Accessed on 01.07.2019].

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 28.06.2019].

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), 2016. FishSource profile: Saithe Icelandic. Updated 30 November 2016. Available at [Accessed on 01.07.2019]