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 — West Bering Sea; East Kamchatka & Karaginsky subzones
Certification — FIP Stage 4
Picture of Cod, Pacific Cod

Sustainability rating rating under review info

Sustainability overview

There are MSC fisheries in the North East Pacific which represent the best option for Pacific cod. Information available for Russian Pacific cod fisheries suggests that the Western Bering Sea, East Kamchatka, and Karaginsky stocks are relatively healthy and are not overfished or being subject to overfishing, however access to full assessments is not available. The status of other stocks is not available. Fishing mortality is primarily managed through the setting of TACs aimed at achieving Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). Cod in the region is mainly caught in bottom trawl and longline fisheries, with some bycatch taken in pelagic trawl fisheries for pollock. For all of these gear types, there are expected interactions with vulnerable species, such as: marine mammals, sharks and seabirds and there is very little information available on the extent of such interactions or any management measures in place to monitor or reduce interactions. There are however, significant closures to protect coastal areas, some cod spawning sites and deep sea habitats from bottom towed gear.

A Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP) is currently underway for the Pacific cod and halibut longline fishery in the Russian EEZ waters. The FIP was launched in 2013 by the Russian Longline Fishery Association (LFA) and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), with key stakeholders being WWF Russia and Highliner Foods (based in North America). The FIP is in its fourth stage and is making changes to policies and practices. One of the key objectives of the FIP is to improve the monitoring of interactions with vulnerable species, and good progress has been made on this.

MSC certified options from the North East Pacific represent the best choice, but if sourcing from Russian fisheries, commercial buyers should specify the need to see demonstrable improvements in monitoring and management of vulnerable species.


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

Stock Area


Stock information

The primary fishing areas for Pacific cod accessed by Russia are the sea of Okhotsk, the Kuril Islands and the West Bering Sea. The majority of the stock units within Russian jurisdiction are believed to be assessed by bottom trawling surveys, with analytical assessments conducted for the West Bering Sea, East Kamchatka and Karaginsky subzones. Information is limited for the other stocks. Access to full assessments is not available so , but data that is available shows that the abundance of Pacific cod varies across the region, but is in a healthy state for the above assessed stocks. In the Western Bering Sea, biomass is projected at 154,000t by the end of 2015, compared to a target biomass at maximum sustainable yield (Bmsy) of 114,000t. In East Kamchatka, biomass for 2015 is projected to be approximately 51,000t compared to a Bmsy of 52,600t. Similarly for these stocks, fishing mortality has been hovering around or is above Fmsy suggesting they are not being subject to overfishing. It is reported that the Sea of Okhotsk population is still at a low level and information for other stocks is limited.


Russian fisheries management is coordinated by the Federal Fisheries Agency. The main instrument being the setting of Total Allowable Catches (TACs) based on what is ‘scientifically justified’. For the assessed stocks in question the TACs were set in order to achieve Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). Other management measures including spatial and temporal closures, gear types and minimum size restrictions are also employed, though detail relating to these measures is difficult to access. Spatial closures are mostly related to bottom trawling, but no fishing is permitted around rookeries of otters, Steller sea lions, and seals. Poaching has been reported as a problem in Russian Far Eastern fisheries and a national plan to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing was to be implemented in 2010, though Pacific cod is not considered to be a species at high risk to these activities.

A Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP) is currently underway for the Pacific cod and halibut longline fishery in the Russian EEZ waters. The FIP was launched in 2013 by the Russian Longline Fishery Association (LFA) and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), with key stakeholders being WWF Russia and Highliner Foods (based in North America). The FIP is in its fourth stage and is making changes to policies and practices to address the following key areas identified for improvement:

1. Improvement of data on all removals during longline fishing, including bycatch of non-target and non-marketable species and possible impact on endangered, threatened, and protected (ETP) species. Such data are important for the assessment of targeted stocks and interactions with other species. The fishing vessels involved in longline fisheries can contribute to collection of such data by at-sea scientific observers.
, 2. Analysis and harmonization of the methods used for stock assessments in different management areas.
, 3. Development of robust harvest control rules (HCR) for management of fisheries based on the precautionary approach. Such HCRs may need additional work on establishment of biological reference points and development of simulation models to ensure that the management strategy is robust and complies with the precautionary approach.
, 4. Clear internal rules of behaviour for the fishermen while in the fishery, necessitating development and implementation of corporate sustainable fishery policy and code of conduct.
, 5. Better understanding and analysis of fishing practices leading to potential IUU fishing for Pacific cod and Pacific halibut.
, 6. Improvement of transparency and public access to information about status of harvested resources and their management, as well as operation of a system for fisheries monitoring and control.

Capture Information

Pacific cod is taken both as a target species and a byproduct of fisheries targeting other species like pollock. Cod is mainly taken in bottom trawl and longline fisheries and to a lesser extent in mid-water trawls targeting pollock. Fishing is open all year long, although some zones and subzones may be closed on a seasonal basis in order to protect spawning grounds or sensitive habitat and species. Typically, the fishery targets Pacific cod during the winter months in deeper waters and Pacific halibut during the summer months in shallower waters.

Information on the bycatch and retained species caught in the Russian Pacific cod fishery is generally not publically accessible, resulting in a more precautionary score for this criteria. Fisheries regulations in the region stipulate that all by-catch should be landed, although it is generally believed that some discards occur. However, it is difficult to assess to what degree this is practiced due to an absence of control and monitoring programmes. Species most vulnerable to bottom trawling include benthic invertebrates, corals, sharks and marine mammals. For the longline fisheries, of most concern are interactions with sharks and seabirds. There is substantial evidence of the impact of long-line fishing gears on seabird populations in the Kamchatka region, namely on the red-legged kittiwake, an endemic Bering Sea species and classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List , and also on fulmars and albatrosses. One of the key objectives of the Fishery Improvement Project for the longline fishery is to improve the monitoring of these interactions and good progress has been made on this.


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)


Aydin K., and P. Livingston, 2003. Food Web Comparisons in the Eastern and Western Bering Sea. ASFC Quarterly report. Available at [Accessed July 2015].

Hawkins, A., 2014. Pacific cod, Gadus macrocephalus: Russian Federation. Prepared for Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Available at [Accessed July 2015].

Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2015.FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication., ( 04/2015 ). Available at [Accessed July 2015].

TINRO Center. 2014. Main results of scientific and industrial activity for 2013. Available at [Accessed July 2015].

SFP, 2015. Russian Pacific Cod and Pacific Halibut Longline Fishery Improvement Project. Available at [Accessed July 2015].

SFP, 2015. Fishsource: Pacific cod, West Bering Sea. Available at [Accessed July 2015].