Cod, Pacific Cod

Gadus macrocephalus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Pacific (FAO 67)
Stock area — Alaska
Stock detail

Gulf of Alaska


Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

Picture of Cod, Pacific Cod

Sustainability rating one info

Sustainability overview

Biomass is above reference points and the fishery is not undergoing overfishing. B/BMSY: 91198/78711 = 1.16. The fishery is managed under Gulf of Alaska Groundfish Fishery Management Plan via a Total allowable catch. Very few Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species are caught in the fishery, but may include marine mammals and seabirds. To protect non-target species or other species caught in the trawl, the management plan establishes catch limits for prohibited species, seasonal closures, gear modifications, quota share programs and the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program. Essential Fish Habitat for Cod has been considered as sand, mud, combinations of the two, and gravel and the cod trawl fishery in this area occurs over sand, mud, and/or cobble substrates and results in relatively minimal bycatch of sessile epibenthic fauna. The fishery management council declared in a 2017 report that no further mitigation is needed to protect essential fish habitat at this time.


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

Stock Area


Stock information

The Pacific Cod stocks in this area are assessed regularly. The most recent assessment concluded that the stock is in a healthy state. The stock is not overfished (defined as B/BMSY: 91198/78711 = 1.16) and is not undergoing overfishing. Fishing mortality is considered to be within safe limits.

Whilst the fishery is considered to be overfished or undergoing overfishing, there is concern for the decline of Pacific cod mean length and cod biomass in this region. The estimates from the 2017 bottom trawl survey show that abundance and biomass have been the lowest in the time series. There has been a 71% decline in abundance and a 58% decline in biomass since the 2015 estimates. Similarly, the International Pacific Halibut Comission Longline Survey also shows a recent decline in the population.

The Ecosystem Considerations 2017 report concluded that there is increasing evidence to suggest that anomalously warm water may have increased mortality rates for juvenile and adult Pacific cod between the years 2014 and 2016. However, ‘promising numbers’ of juvenile cod have been found in the 2017 year class.


Criterion score: 0 info

Gulf of Alaska cod are managed under the Gulf of Alaska groundfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The FMP consists of a suite of measures to protect the stock and bycatch. One of the measures is a total allowable catch (TAC), which is regularly amended to reflect the cod populations and ecosystem impacts. For example, due to recent declines in recruitment in the Gulf of Alaska cod fishery, which are thought to be due to adnormally warm water, the management council substantially reduced TACs. A report released in August 2018 has showed that a ‘promising number’ of recruits have been recorded amongst the 2017 year class.

All vessels prosecuting the fishery are required to have a licence. Fishermen must have a permit and the number of permits available are limited. Regular stock assessments are conducted and catches are monitored through record keeping, reporting requirements, and observer monitoring. There is a high level of observer coverage amongst the trawl fleet, though observer coverage is low in the pot and jig fishery.

Most of the species caught in the fishery are managed under the groundfish FMP or another management complex. Management measures to protect bycatch species include seasonal closure areas, gear modifications, fishing patterns are modified because of share-based programs (such as individual fishing quotas (IFQs) or cooperatives). To reduce discards and protect bycatch species, cod and pollock (which can be caught as bycatch in the cod fishery), the whole catch of these two species must also be retained. Where flatfish discards exceed 5% of the total catch, management measures must be implemented to reduce their capture.

The Gulf of Alaska have a community development quota program where 10.7% of the allowable catch is allocated to fishery-dependent communities in western Alaska.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Most of the bycatch in the fishery are species managed under a Fishery Management Plan (FMP) or Fisheries Complex. Most of the species in the groundfish FMP are not overfished and not undergoing overfishing. The Marine Stewardship Council report shows that each non-target species does not generally exceed 5% of the total catch. The Ecosystems Considerations report suggested that sea stars are one of the main non-target species, comprising about 90% of the invertebrates caught in the cod trawls. Other species that are caught on important scales are the Giant Grenadier, miscellaneous fishes, and halibut.

Marine mammals are rarely taken incidentally in the Pacific cod fishery. The NOAA 2018 List of Fisheries lists the Steller sea lion as the main marine mammal at risk in the Gulf of Alaska cod trawl fishery, thought the fishery is listed as a Category III fishery, which means that there is “occasional incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals”. There is some concern over the impact of the trawl fishery on seabirds: the most recent stock assessment suggests that the trawl fishery overlaps with Shearwater. Prohibited species must be avoided and when caught, must be returned to the sea immediately, the species include Pacific halibut, Pacific herring, Pacific salmon, steelhead trout, king crab, and Tanner crab.

To protect the protected species, the government can immediately implement closure, for example when their capture rates are high in a specific area. When these species are allowed to be retained, there are strict limits and monitoring in place to manage their fishing mortality. Management measures to protect other bycatch species include seasonal closure areas, gear modifications, fishing pattern changes (due to share-based programs, such as individual fishing quotas (IFQs) or cooperatives).

There are protected areas including the Gulf of Alaska Coral Habitat Protection to ensure that vulnerable features are protected. However, the 2017 Essential Fish Habitat 5 year review stated that there are a lack of sediment data for the Gulf of Alaska. There is also limited understanding of habitat preferences for Pacific cod by life stage. Further research is needed to determine the oceanographic conditions such as sea surface temperature and gyre strength on GOA Pacific cod.


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
Bass, seabass (Farmed)
Bream, Gilthead (Farmed)
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)


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FishWatch. 2018. Pacific Cod Gadus macrocephalus. Available at: [Accessed on 14th August 2018].

Barbeaux, S. Aydin, K., Fissel, B., Holsman, K., Palsson, W., Shotwell, K., Yang, Q., Zador, S., 2017. Assessment of the Pacific Cod Stock in the Gulf of Alaska. Report produced for NOAA. Available at:

NOAA. 2018. North Pacific Observer Program. Available at: [Accessed 14th August 2018].

NOAA. 2017. Assessment of the effects of fishing on Essential Fish Habitat in Alaska. C6 Fishing Effects Discussion Paper. Available at:
br>Simpson, S. C., Eagleton, M. P., Olson, J. V., Harrington, G. A., and Kelly, S.R. 2017. Final Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) 5-year Review, Summary Report: 2010 through 2015. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-F/AKR-15, 115p.

North Pacific Fishery Management Council. 2017. FISHERY MANAGEMENT PLAN for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska. Anchorage, Alaska. Available at:

Bowen, D., Rice, J., Trumble, R.J., 2017. MSC 2nd Annual Surveillance Report Remote Surveillance for Alaska Pacific Cod Fishery Gulf of Alaska.

Bowen, D., Rice, J., Trumble, R.J., 2015. MSC Public Certification Report for Alaska Pacific Cod Fishery Gulf of Alaska.

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NOAA. 2018. 2018 List of Fisheries. Available at:

NMFS. 2018. 2nd quarter Summary of Stock Status for FSSI Stocks.

Simpson, S. C., Eagleton, M. P., Olson, J. V., Harrington, G. A., and Kelly, S.R. 2017. Final Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) 5-year Review, Summary Report: 2010 through 2015. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-F/AKR-15, 115p.

Zador, S., Yasumiishi, E. Ecosystem Considerations 2017 Status of the Gulf of Alaska Marine Ecosystem. Anchorage, AK.

Undercurrent News (2018). Gulf of Alaska seeing juvenile cod return, researchers find. Undercurrent News. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Aug. 2018].