Melanogrammus aeglefinus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl and seine
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea, West of Scotland, Skagerrak
Stock detail — 4, 6a, 3a.20
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Haddock

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020.

The stock is in a good state, and in 2019 fishing pressure declined to the lowest levels on record, and below FMSY for the first time since 2012. Recruitment since 2000 has been low with occasional larger year classes, with 2019 being one of the largest year classes since 2000 - albeit at a low level compared to pre-2000. Some management measures are in place, and appear to have been successful in reducing fishing pressure in 2019, but discards remain too high. Haddock is mainly caught by demersal otter trawl, which can have habitat impacts, and demersal seining, which generally doesn’t have habitat impacts. However, both methods can catch other species, and of particular concern in this area is the bycatch of North Sea cod, particularly by demersal otter trawl.

MSC-certified haddock caught by the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) comes from a fleet that has taken measures to improve monitoring (with CCTV on some vessels) and make catches more selective through gear improvements.


Haddock is a cold-temperate (boreal) species. It is a migratory fish, found in inshore shallow waters in summer and in deep water in winter. Smaller than cod, it can attain a length of 70-100 cm and can live for more than 20 years. It spawns between February and June, but mostly in March and April. In the North Sea, haddock become sexually mature at an age of 3-4 years and a length of 30-40 cm. Maturity occurs later and at greater lengths in more northern areas of its range.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

The stock is in a good state, and in 2019 fishing pressure declined to a sustainable level for the first time since 2012.

Spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has been above MSY Btrigger (132,000t) in most of the years since 2002, and in 2020 it is 228,239 tonnes. Fishing mortality (F) has declined from high levels of around 0.8 between 1971 and 2001, and has since fluctuated between 0.2 and 0.5. In 2019 it was 0.177 - the lowest on record and below FMSY (0.194) for the first time since 2012. Recruitment since 2000 has been low with occasional larger year classes, with 2019 being one of the largest year classes since 2000 - albeit at a low level compared to pre-2000.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, total catches in 2021 should be no more than 69,280t. This is a 66% increase on the previous year’s advice thanks to the large incoming 2019 year class that is substantially larger than any of the most recent recruitments for this stock. In recent years, Total Allowable Catches (TACs) have been set in line with scientific advice, and catches have been in line with TACs. TACs are split between the 3 areas of this stock, with around 85% allocated to the North Sea (area 4), 10% to West of Scotland (6a), and 5% to the Skagerrak (3a.20).


Criterion score: 0.25 info

Some management measures are in place, and appear to have been successful in reducing fishing pressure in 2019, but discards remain too high.

The EU landing obligation has been phased in to all catches of haddock in ICES Subarea 4 since 2016. Since 2019, the stock is fully under EU landing obligation, but there are some exemptions in place under the North Sea Demersal Discard Plan. The estimated discard amount is in 2019 was 15% of the total catch - an increase on 2018 (13%), based on observer data. The reported below-minimum-size-landings are 0.49% of the total catch which is significantly lower than the discard estimate, suggesting that fish caught below MCRS are not being reported as BMS.

The Scottish Conservation Credits scheme, which aimed to reduce cod mortality, improve gear selectivity, and reduce discards, ended in 2016 but was successful in its aims up until then. It also successfully reduced mortality of associated species, such as haddock. In early 2008, a one-net rule was introduced in Scotland as part of the CCS. This is likely to have improved the accuracy of reporting of landings to the correct mesh size range.

This stock is covered by the EU’s North Sea Multi Annual management Plan (MAP), and although the MAP has not been adopted by Norway, joint TACs are agreed through the EU-Norway Agreement. The fishing pressure on this stock fell below MSY in 2020 - the first time since 2012. The spawning stock is currently in a good state, and although recruitment has been declining, there appears to be a strong year class in 2019 that has allowed catch advice for 2021 to increase by 66%. In 2019 the European Union and Norway jointly requested ICES to advise on the long-term management strategies on joint stocks, including haddock, and ICES recommended its own MSY approach as the most precautionary solution. Until a strategy is agreed upon, ICES advice continues to be used. Catch advice is given for Areas 4 (North Sea), 6 (West of Scotland) and 3a (Skagerrak and Kattegat) combined, and this is used to set TACs for each area, with 85% allocated to the North Sea, 5% to Skagerrak and Kattegat and 10% to West of Scotland. Catches are recorded for each area, and are broadly in line with the TAC for the North Sea, over the TAC for the west of Scotland and below the TAC for Skagerrak and Kattegat. In total, catches for all three areas combined since 2015 are on average 80% of the recommended catches.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 31st December 2020, and new UK Fisheries legislation is being developed during 2020. MCS will update ratings with new management information when new legislation comes into force.

In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.
The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota ‘uplift’ being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.
Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels.
The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.
The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Demersal otter trawl can have impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems such as corals and sponges. It is likely that this fishery has a bycatch of the vulnerable North Sea cod stock, which is at very low levels, but the certified fleet is taking additional measures to reduce bycatch.

Demersal trawl and seines using mesh size of greater than 100 mm accounted for 95% of catches in 2018. Although otter trawls have the potential to cause significant adverse habitat impacts, the risk of impact is to some extent mitigated by the fact that the ‘core’ otter trawl fisheries are spatially well defined and there has been a significant reduction in effort in this fishery over recent decades. Spatial management measures have been implemented by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations to reduce potential impacts to deep water vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) and habitats through the establishment of bottom fishery closures. However, not all deep water VMEs have been identified and protected through closures so it is likely that some sensitive seabed habitats remain at risk of bottom trawling impacts.

Haddock is a specific target for some fleets, but is also caught as part of a mixed fishery catching cod, whiting and Nephrops. ICES and STECF data indicate that the demersal otter trawl roundfish-directed fishery has the biggest impact on the North Sea cod stock, and therefore cod bycatch is of concern in this fishery.

Some trawlers operating in the east of the North Sea have used 130 mm mesh and this is likely to have improved selectivity for haddock, but there is the risk that vulnerable species, such as cod, could be bycaught. Under the North Sea MAP, bycatch species should be managed under the precautionary approach if scientific information is not available, and otherwise managed according to the key CFP objectives. If stocks fall below trigger levels, measures can be brought in such as limits on characteristics or use of gear (e.g. mesh size, depth); time/area closures; and minimum conservation reference sizes.

Mitigation measures include: minimum 120mm mesh size in the northern North Sea and seasonal closures to protect spawning stocks (spawning cod, in particular). For cod, haddock, saithe and whiting in the North Sea and Skagerrak, if more than 10% of the catch by weight is juveniles (smaller than 35cm, 30cm, 35cm, or 27cm respectively), the area in which they were caught is closed for 3 weeks.

The Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) is MSC certified for haddock, whiting, hake, plaice and saithe in the North Sea. 20 of its boats have trialled CCTV to help with monitoring catches, and the whole fleet has improved its gear to reduce bycatches of cod and spurdog. All nets are governed by the same mesh regulations, which require 120mm mesh cod-ends. MSC-certified haddock makes up some 30-40% of the total Scottish catch, and 66% of total North Sea haddock catch. There are some conditions on the certification, relating to bycatch:
For starry ray, more should be done to avoid fishing these animals (e.g. by evaluating conditions under which many are caught) or killing them (e.g. reducing injury or death from capture prior to releasing them).
For common skate, while it is not likely that the fishery is having major impacts on this species, there is insufficient information and further measures to reduce bycatch would be possible, such as spatial closures as part of a rebuilding plan.
For both species, more data is needed, e.g. fleet-wide levels of bycatch and impacts of mitigation measures.
For West Scotland cod, stronger management measures are needed to ensure that bycatch is not hindering recovery, demonstrated by evidence that the stock is rebuilding.
For habitats: more information and a strategy is needed to guarantee that the fishery is not impacting vulnerable habitats containing sea pens, specifically, the rare tall sea pen (Funiculina quadrangularis).


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)


Eigaard, O. R., Bastardie, F., Breen, M., Dinesen, G. E., Hintzen, N. T., Laffargue, P., Mortensen, L. O., Nielsen, J. R., Nilsson, H. C., O’Neill, G. G., Polet, H., Reid, D. G., Sala, A., Sköld, M., Smith, C., Sørensen, T. K., Tully, O., Zengin, M. and Rijnsdorp, A. D. 2016. Estimating seabed pressure from demersal trawls, seines, and dredges based on gear design and dimensions. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 73:1, pp. i27–i43, https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsv099 [Accessed on 03.07.2020].

EU, 2018. Regulation 2018/973 establishing a multiannual plan for demersal stocks in the North Sea and the fisheries exploiting those stocks. Available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32018R0973&from=EN [Accessed on 02.07.2019].

EU, 2018. Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2018/2035 of 18 October 2018 specifying details of implementation of the landing obligation for certain demersal fisheries in the North Sea for the period 2019-2021. Available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.L_.2018.327.01.0017.01.ENG. Accessed on 23.07.2019.

EU, 2019. Bilateral Agreements: Norway Northern Agreement. Available at https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/cfp/international/agreements/norway [Accessed on 02.07.2019].

ICES, 2018. ICES Stock Annex: Cod (Gadus morhua) in Subarea 4 and divisions 7.d and 20 (North Sea, eastern English Channel, Skagerrak). cod.27.47d20_SA. Revised: May 2018. Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Stock%20Annexes/2018/cod.27.47d20_SA.pdf [Accessed on 03.07.2020].

ICES. 2020. Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) in Subarea 4, Division 6.a, and Subdivision 20 (North Sea, West of Scotland, Skagerrak). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, had.27.46a20. Available at https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5884. [Accessed on 02.07.2020].

ICES. 2020. Working Group on the Assessment of Demersal Stocks in the North Sea and Skagerrak (WGNSSK). ICES Scientific Reports. 2:61. 1140 pp. Available at http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.6092 [Accessed on 02.07.2020].

Jones, H., Cook, R., des Clers, S. and Deleau, M. 2020. Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) 3rd Surveillance Audit Report: Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) Northern Demersal Stocks. Prepared by Control Union Pesca Ltd, February 2020. Available at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/sfsag-northern-demersal-stocks/@@assessments [Accessed on 03.07.2020].