Cod, Pacific Cod

Gadus macrocephalus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Longline
Capture area — North West Pacific (FAO 61)
Stock area — Russia
Stock detail — Bering Sea (West) and Chukotskaya, Karaginskaya & Petropavlovsko-Komandorskaya subzones
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Cod, Pacific Cod

Sustainability rating one info

Sustainability overview

Updated: April 2020.

The stock of this fishery is in a good state and fishing pressure is within sustainable limits. For all three subzones, the biomass is above BMSY and fishing mortality is significantly below the target reference point. This fishery is MSC certified and management tools in place include a minimum conservation reference size of 40cm and a seasonal closure of subzones. A TAC has been in place since the early 1970s and current harvest strategy in place is responsive to stock status. Demersal longline fisheries have minimal impact on the physical and biological habit and impact to seabirds is managed by completing a bycatch logbook and the use of streamers which has been mandatory since 2011.


Pacific cod are also known as grey cod. They are found on the shelf edge and upper slope (100-250 m) in the winter, moving to shallower waters (<100 m) in the summer. Pacific cod are a demersal species, found near the sea floor. They are a moderately fast growing, short-lived species, reaching an average length of 19 cm in their first year and have a maximum age of 18 years. Half of the females reach sexual maturity at 4.4 years in the Gulf of Alaska and 4.9 years in the Bering Sea. Females grow significantly faster in the Bering Sea, compared to the Gulf of Alaska. They produce around 1 million eggs. Pacific cod prey includes clams, worms, crabs, shrimp, and juvenile fish. Their predators generally include halibut and marine mammals.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

The stock is in a good state and fishing pressure is within sustainable limits. A total allowable catch (TAC) was set for the stock at 140,000 tonnes for 2016 and 2017 (combined). The component of the fishery that is Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified makes up 31.8% of the TAC. This accounted for 19,300 tonnes in 2016 and 25,200 tonnes in 2017. No cases of exceeding the total allowable catch (TAC) have been reported for this stock. The stock is divided into three separate stock components. The Pacific cod stock of the Western Bering Sea is separated from the stock of the Karaginskaya subzone by the deep underwater Shirshov Ridge, while the stock of the Karaginskaya subzone is separated from the stock of the Petropavlovsk-Komandorskaya subzone by the deep Kamchatsky Strait.

Western Bering Sea and Chukotskaya subzones
Nearly 50% of the total fishing effort takes place in the Western Bering Sea, and a further 6% takes place in the Chukotskaya area. Currently, the TAC of Pacific cod in the Western Bering Sea and Chukotstaya zones is combined, as the species is represented here by a single stock. The TAC is then distributed between the two zones based on the current trend in catch values. In this area, research surveys and models demonstrate increasing spawning stock biomass (SSB), biomass (B) and catch per unit effort (CPUE) of Pacific Cod. From 1993 - 2003, the SSB ranged from 320,740 - 344,040 million tonnes and by 2009 it had grown to 1,224,430 million tonnes. There was a decline to 793,070 million tonnes by 2013 but this was followed by an increase to 2,079,480 million tonnes by 2017. Pacific cod biomass in this area has consistently been above Blim from 1999 - 2017 and above BMSY since 2003. In 2017, biomass was 2,079,480 million tonnes and 1.9 times BMSY (1,123,201 mt). CPUE has increased from 5 tonnes per day in 2007 to 9 tonnes per day in 2017. In 2017, fishing mortality (F) was also below FMSY (0.105).

Karaginskaya subzone
Around 30% of the total fishing effort takes place in the Karaginskaya area. In 2017, the TAC in this area was set at 17,000 tonnes and 100% of this was used. Research surveys and models show that the biomass has been stable in this zone, with the stock in 2017 close to the highest in the time series. Since 2000, Pacific cod biomass has consistently been above BMSY. In 2017, SSB was 53,800 million tonnes, biomass was 129,300 million tonnes and biomass was 2.5 times BMSY (52,650 million tonnes). In 2017, fishing mortality (F) was also significantly below the target reference point for fishing mortality (Ftr = 0.294).

Petropavlovsk-Komandorskaya subzone
Around 16% of the total fishing effort takes place in the Petropavlovsho-Komandorskaya area. In contrast to the West Bering Sea and Chukotskaya subzone and the Karaginskaya subzone, Pacific cod stocks in the Petropavlovsko-Komandorskaya subzone are not fully exploited. On average, during the period 2001-2014 the TAC utilisation was only 57%. This has increased in 2017 where TAC utilisation was 95%, resulting in a TAC of 13,800 tonnes and a catch of 13,100 tonnes. Simulations show that is this zone, Pacific cod biomass (B) and SSB are showing an upward trend, with the biomass now the highest in the time series. Biomass has been consistently above BMSY from 2000-2017. In 2017, SSB was 56,000 million tonnes and biomass was 128,000 million tonnes, 2.0 times BMSY (64,150 million tonnes). In 2017, fishing mortality (F) was also significantly below the target reference point for fishing mortality (Ftr = 0.296).


Criterion score: 0 info

This fishery takes place within the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and formal management is conducted mainly at the national level. Russian fisheries management is coordinated by the Federal Fisheries Agency and there are a number of fishery management tools in place. There is a network of fishery institutes in Russia that conduct scientific surveys and carry out appropriate research and monitoring to underpin the basic advice for management and Russia has a comprehensive national plan to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Management tools in place include a minimum conservation reference size (MCRS) of 40cm for Pacific cod, a mesh size limit on the bottom trawl fishery and prohibition of target fisheries for Pacific cod in the Petropavlovsk-Komandorskaya subzone at depths less than 200m. Closure of subzones also occur on a seasonal basis due to biological activities or sensitive habitats or species in the area at specific times. According to fishing regulations, all Pacific cod caught as a target species must be completely utilised.

A Total Allowable Catch (TAC) was first introduced for Pacific cod in the early 1970s. At that time, the TAC was based on direct estimations that came from bottom trawl surveys. Since 2015, the harvest strategy has been significantly revised with new requirements including analysis of stock size, life history, fishing technologies, determination of long term goals of exploitation, determination of target and limit reference points in terms of spawning or commercial biomass and fishing mortality. The harvest strategy in place is thought to be responsive to the status of the stock and has been designed to meet stock management objectives.

The Western Bering Sea Pacific cod and Pacific Halibut longline fishery has been Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified since 2019, following a Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP) that was initiated in 2013. The MSC certification passed 6 conditions, those related to Pacific cod involved better data collection on total catch and seabird bycatch.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

In this area, Pacific cod is taken both as a target species and a by-product of fisheries targeting other species, such as pollock. In recent years, the proportion of longline cod fishing has increased further, reaching 46.1% of the total catch on average in the Western Bering Sea zone and 88.6% in the Chukotskaya zone. In the Karaginskaya subzone, a recent increase of catch by longliners has resulted in close to 50% being caught by either longliners or mobile gears. There are seasonal variations in fishing method and longlining is carried out mainly in the spring and summer months from March to July, and catches larger individuals than demersal otter trawling or Danish seine netting. The current seasonality of fisheries by different gear types allows for better and more efficient exploitation of stocks. In the longline fishery, the proportion of undersized individuals caught is negligible.

Demersal longlines have minimal impact on the physical and biological habitat. There is a chance of negative effects on sensitive habitats when their distribution overlaps with fishing areas, however, this effect does not cause critical damage to benthic communities. Some dragging and snagging is inevitable, however, it is less frequent and damaging than with demersal trawls and likely less than with bottom seines. In addition, as the ends of the lines are buoyed at the surface and only soak for relatively short periods of time, longlines are rarely lost, which also makes them less damaging than bottom-set nets.

The longline fishery takes place near the bottom in very deep water and therefore, there is a low chance that sea birds or marine mammals are encountered when the gear is fishing at this depth. Encounters can occur when the hooks are hauled in or out and birds or marine mammals would be attracted by the bait of fish on the hooks. All MSC certified vessels are required to complete a bycatch logbook that covers all non-target catch and interactions, including large marine animals (marine mammals, sharks, reptiles) and birds, as well as invertebrates such as molluscs, cold-water corals, sponges and other bottom-dwelling organisms. During fishery observation, no marine mammals were caught in this area but Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species in this area include Steller sea lions.

The frequency of bird capture on hooks in longline fisheries is always variable, and depends on various factors including the season, weather, wind and location. Various sea bird species are almost always concentrated around the longline vessels and in the certified fishery, dead birds were found in 22.7% of the longline lines, however, this represented a very small proportion of the total population. The main management measure in place has been the introduction of streamers which has proven to be effective in reducing bird hooking incidents by a factor of 11, their use has been mandatory since 2011.


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)


Aydin, K., and Livingston, P. 2003. Food Web Comparisons in the Eastern and Western Bering Sea. ASFC Quarterly report. Available at [Accessed on 30.04.2020].

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, F. G., Polet, H., Reid, D. G., Sala, A., Sköld, M. et al. Estimating seabed pressure from demersal trawls, seines, and dredges based on gear design and dimensions. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 73 (1), pp.27-43. Available at [Accessed on 30.04.2020].

Lajus, D., Safronova, D., Orlov, A. and Blyth-Skyrme, R. 2019. MSC Sustainable Fisheries Certification – Western Bering Sea Pacific cod and Pacific halibut longline. Public Certification Report – October 2019. Longline Fishery Association. Available at [Accessed on 30.04.2020].

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. 2014. Pacific Cod, Gadus microcephalus. Russian Federation – Bottom trawl, Boat seine net, Bottom longline. Available at [Accessed on 30.04.2020].