Molva molva

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Longline
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27) and Arctic Ocean (FAO 18)
Stock area — Northeast Atlantic and Arctic Ocean
Stock detail — 6-9, 12, 14, 3a, 4a
Picture of Ling

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019

There is limited information about ling in the northeast Atlantic. It is not known whether the stock is in a healthy state or not, but fishing pressure seems to be within sustainable limits. Average landings from 2001-2018 have been roughly half what they were from 1988-2000. However, recent catches and catch limits have been above the scientific advice. Longlining is not a well targeted fishing activity, and can encounter bycatch of vulnerable species in the demersal fisheries of the North Atlantic, including seabirds and sharks. Bycatch levels in EU longline fisheries may have had a negative impact on the population abundance of some bird species, e.g. the black-legged kittiwake, which has experienced severe decline in the North Sea and West of Scotland, as well as in Norway.


Ling is the largest member of the gadoid or cod family. It is a demersal species found mainly on rocky bottoms. Spawning areas are Biscay, the slopes west of the British Isles and off the Faroes and Southern Iceland. They can reach up to 2m in length, 45kg in weight and can live to 25 years of age. Ling are found between 100 m and 1000 m depth but most commonly between 100 m and 400 m; younger fish are often found inhabiting the shallowest end of their depth range and older individuals found at greater depths, although these fish move into shallower water to spawn. An active predator, ling feeds on other fish species such as cod and herring and will also feed on lobsters and other invertebrates. Ling spawns in spring/summer, between April and July, in Scottish waters. Maturity (50%) occurs at lengths of 71 cm for females and 62 cm for males. Life history traits are in line with other members of the gadoid family and as such ling is less vulnerable to fishing mortality than typical deep-water species.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

This is a data limited stock. There is no reference point for the stock size, but fishing pressure seems to be within sustainable limits. This species has medium resilience to fishing pressure.

The scientific advice for this stock is based on a standardized catch per unit effort (CPUE, the amount of fish caught from a certain time period or effort level, e.g. kg per number of hooks or number of days at sea). The CPUE, based on data from the Norwegian longline fleet, shows an increasing trend from 66.53kg/1000 hooks in 2004, to 165.54kg/1000 hooks in 2017, and a decline to 144.62kg/1000 hooks in 2018. Fishing mortality (F) is estimated to be below FMSY proxy. Average landings from 1988-2000 were around 31,000 tonnes, but have been lower recently, with the 2001-2018 average at 17,000t. However, landings have been slightly increasing since 2011 and were 20,688t in 2018.

ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches should be no more than 18,516 tonnes in each of the years 2020 and 2021. This is a 5% increase on the previous year because of the estimated biomass increase. However, subarea 7 (Irish and Celtic Seas), which is within this stock area, shows a continuous decline in biomass since 2013, likely because of environmental conditions. Management may need to take into account different trends in stock development in different areas, although 90% of the catch is from areas 4 and 6 (North Sea and West of Scotland).

Advice based only on catch data, such as the CPUE data here, can be misleading, as has happened in the past, e.g. with Newfoundland cod. Therefore, there is some uncertainty with this assessment.


Criterion score: 0.75 info

Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and landings have significantly exceeded the advice in recent years. The advised catch in 2017 was 14,756t and the agreed TAC was 25,327t. In 2018 advice was 17,695 and the TAC was 25,709t. While landings were below the TAC, at 20,279t in 2017 and 20,688t in 2018, they exceeded the advised catch by over 50% in 2014 and 2015; by over 30% in 2016 and 2017, and by 17% in 2018.

The TAC is split into quotas for the different fleets: Norway has a licensing scheme in EU waters, and in 2019 the Norwegian quota in the EC zone is 8000 t. The Faroe Islands has a quota of 200t in 6.a and 6.b. The quota for the EU in the Norwegian zone (Area 4) is set at 1 350 t. EU TACs for areas partially covered in this section are set on a 3-year basis (for 2016-2019).

Discards have been recorded since 2012, and increased from 1% to peak at 8% in 2016, before falling back to 5% in 2017 and 2018. However, as discarding is prohibited within the Norwegian EEZ and for Norwegian vessels, there is no discard information for the Norwegian fleet.

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

Ling is mainly caught by Norwegian longlining (84% of 2018 catch) in the northern North Sea and West of Scotland. Much of the rest (13% in 2018) is caught as bycatch in demersal trawls, mainly by Scotland.

Technical measures in force for this stock include a minimum conservation reference size of 63cm and areas restricted to fishing for certain classes of vessels. However, ling mature at around 80-90cm and juveniles can still be caught in this fishery.

Fixed nets are banned deeper than 200m, because of concerns regarding the length of nets used, soak times, discards and ghost fishing. On of the issues with soak times is that the longer the net is in the water, the more time there is between catching the fish and hauling them out. This results in lower quality of catch and higher likelihood of discarding it.

Longlining is not a well targeted fishing activity, and longliners in the demersal fisheries of the North Atlantic are known to take moderate quantities of vulnerable marine species, e.g. seabirds, sea turtles and sharks. There is limited information about bycatches in the ling longline fishery. Seabirds can be particularly vulnerable to longlines during the setting phase. Bycatch levels in EU longline fisheries may have had a negative impact on the population abundance of some bird species, e.g. the black-legged kittiwake, which has experienced severe decline in areas 4 and 6 as well as in Norway. At the eastern edge of the fishery, where it overlaps with the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission management area, longlining deeper than 200m is prohibited to protect deep water sharks.

Set longlines have little interaction with the seabed compared to other fishing activities, but they can get entangled on habitat features. Mooring weights/anchors can cause abrasion and penetration of the seabed.


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)


Froese R. and Pauly D. (Editors), 2019. Molva molva, Ling. Available at: [Accessed on 19.07.2019].

ICES, 2019. Working Group on the Biology and Assessment of Deep-sea Fisheries Resources (WGDEEP). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:21. 988 pp. doi: 10.17895/ Available at [Accessed on 19.07.2019].

ICES, 2019. Ling (Molva molva) in Subareas 6-9, 12, and 14, and Divisions 3.a and 4.a (Northeast Atlantic and Arctic Ocean). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, lin.27.3a4a6-91214, Available at [Accessed on 19.07.2019].