Melanogrammus aeglefinus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Rockall
Stock detail — 6b
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Haddock

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020 

Haddock biomass from the Rockall region has increased five-fold in the last five years. The stock is in a healthy state and is well above any warning reference points such as MSY BTrigger or Blim. Recruitment of young fish into the stock has been increasing from an all time low in 2011, but is still below average. Fishing mortality has strong fluctuations but has, in general, been declining in recent years and was just above FMSY in 2019. There is no haddock-specific management plan for haddock in this area (excluding MSC Rockall haddock), though the EU multi annual plan (MAP) for Western Waters does cover this stock. Harvest Control Rules for the stock outside of EU waters have been proposed. Trawling is the most common way of catching haddock (over 99%) with the remainder coming from longline. There are areas in Rockall with protective measures in regards to vulnerable habitats and haddock spawning.

The Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) Rockall haddock was certified as a responsibly managed and sustainable fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in 2018. SFSAG follow the recommendations of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) from bottom trawling. This includes recording encounters with VMEs (e.g. cold-water corals, deep-sea sponge aggregations) and moving out of the VME area. While the certified fishery is well managed, a more effective harvest strategy and harvest control rules are required. There is also a need for a better understanding of the impact of the fishery on blue skate (critically endangered).


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 Rockall haddock stock is healthy with no overfishing. This stock is separate from the haddock stocks around the UK continental shelf, and has lower growth rates and a smaller maximum size.

Rockall haddock spawning stock biomass in 2019 was 42,707 tonnes, the highest value since 1991 and a big improvement from 2014, when it was 2,376 tonnes - the lowest on record. In 2020 it has declined slightly to 38,444 tonnes but remains far in excess of MSY BTrigger (3,712 tonnes). Recruitment has improved steadily since 2011, though is expected to still be below average in 2019 and 2020. Fishing mortality fluctuates widely but has slowly been decreasing since the 1990s. In 2012 and 2016 F was below FMSY (0.168), but from 2013-2015, and 2017-2018, F was above it. In 2019, F was almost equal to FMSY, at 0.169.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2021 should be no more than 6,239 tonnes. This is 40% lower than the advised catch for 2020 because the assessment in 2020 has resulted in a lower perceived stock size and higher fishing mortality than in the previous assessment, and also projects a decline in total stock size in 2021.

The Scottish industry observer sampling scheme has tried to improve coverage in this area, though haddock samples remain low. More sampling opportunities are being hoped for in the future.


Criterion score: 0.25 info

Haddock in this area is not overfished, and fishing pressure is declining to near-sustainable levels. It is covered by the EU Western Waters Multi Annual Plan and landings have been consistently in line with TAC recommendations. This component of the fishery is MSC certified, but there conditions to improve Harvest Control Rules and minimise the bycatch of blue skate.

Scotland is the main country fishing for Rockall haddock, followed by Ireland, Russia, and Norway. The Scottish fleet also targets anglerfish, ling, saithe and megrim in this area. Rockall haddock in EU waters is covered by the EU Western Waters Multi-Annual Plan (MAP). There is an agreed Total Allowable Catch for EU waters, which has matched the scientific advice precisely since 2017, and catches have generally been equal to or below the TAC. Discards have been a little high, averaging 11% of the total catch from 2015-2019 (2019 catch figures are preliminary), but dropped to 4% in 2019, which is when the TAC doubled. This is an improvement on the 1990s, when haddock discards were often double the landings or more.

There is not yet a management plan for the wider stock area outside of EU waters, in the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) regulatory area, but a set of proposed NEAFC Harvest Control Rules were evaluated in 2019 by ICES and found to be precautionary. The proposed HCRs include limiting the amount by which a TAC may change from year to the next. This measure doesn’t exist under the EU MAP, which has resulted in the EU haddock TAC doubling in from 2018 to 2019, followed by advice for 2021 that would lead to a 40% drop in TAC. Such large changes are difficult for a fishery to implement and enforce, so a TAC change limit could be beneficial.

There is a minimum conservation reference size of 30 cm. Discards in the NEAFC area have been banned since 2009. A protected area, known as the Rockall Haddock Box, has been closed to fishing (except longlines) since 2001 to protect young haddock. Longlining is more size-selective and less lack to catch juveniles. Three other areas have been closed to bottom fishing since 2007 to protect cold-water corals: North West Rockall, Logachev Mounds, and West Rockall Mounds, and Empress of the British Banks has been closed since 2012.

Marine Stewardship Council certified Rockall haddock is caught by the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) on the Rockall Bank within the UK EEZ, limited to a depth of 350m. SFSAG follow the recommendations of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) from bottom trawling. This includes recording encounters with VMEs (e.g. cold-water corals, deep-sea sponge aggregations) and moving out of the VME area. While the certified fishery is well managed, a more effective harvest strategy and harvest control rules is recommended. There are also issues with a high catch of blue skate (critically endangered) and wider concerns for all EU fisheries regarding compliance with the Landing Obligation.

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

Most haddock in this area is caught by otter trawling, over a mixture of substrates, including rocky reefs and boulders. There is limited information on bycatch, and no records of marine mammal bycatch, but there are some concerns over catch of vulnerable species such as skates and sharks.

There is potential for damage to the seabed by trawling (e.g. see the EU BENTHIS project). Trawling is also associated with discarding of unwanted fish, i.e. undersized and/or non-quota and/or over-quota species.

There are a number of closed areas on the Rockall and Hatton Banks and the Darwin Mounds to protect cold-water corals. Large areas near the Wyville-Thompson ridge are also closed to demersal trawling which affords protection for corals in these areas. Fishing is closed in multiple areas around the Rockall Bank including the Northwest and southwest Rockall Bank area and the Haddock Box. The former two are closed to protect Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) and the latter to protect haddock stocks.

Information on bycatch in this region is somewhat limited. Landings from the Marine Stewardship Council-certified Rockall haddock fishery show bycatch between 2-36% of species such as megrim, saithe, ling and monkfish. As the gear type is similar, it can be postulated that similar species are also caught as bycatch in non-certified fisheries in the Rockall area. Discards have historically been high, though there is a level of uncertainty associated with this due to limited observer coverage. As cod and whiting are bycatch from the haddock fishery and have very low catch allowances and are somewhat data deficient, there is the possibility that the haddock fishery is impacting the current cod and whiting population.

In the mixed gadoid demersal fishery, several elasmobranch species can be caught in otter trawls, including the common skate (complex) and spurdog. Both species have depleted populations in the area, but protections are in place, including prohibitions at EU level. Trawl gears in the Celtic Seas have been observed to have a high bycatch of elasmobranchs, including vulnerable species. There are closed areas in place to protect habitats utilised by the species, which are enforced using VMS data. However, there is a lack of information regarding catch rates for both species and there is low observer coverage. Therefore it is difficult to fully understand the impact of the fishery on ETP species. A new app, BATmap (By-catch Avoidance Tool using mapping) is being trialled as of July 2020 to help Scottish skippers avoid bycatch of cod, whiting and spurdog in the west of Scotland. It allows fishers to share real-time information about hotspots of these species so that others can avoid the area. This is a new technology, and it is too early to assess the impact, but innovation such as this is a very positive and vital step forward for minimising bycatch in mixed fisheries. The project is led by the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation (SFO), the University of Aberdeen and Fisheries Innovation Scotland (FIS), with support from other Scottish Producer Organisations, the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association, and Seafish. Skippers from the Aberdeen Fish Producer’s Organisation and the North East of Scotland Fishermen’s Organisation are also participating.

Marine Stewardship Council certified Rockall haddock is caught by the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) on the Rockall Bank within the UK EEZ, limited to a depth of 350m. SFSAG follow the recommendations of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) from bottom trawling. This includes recording encounters with VMEs (e.g. cold-water corals, deep-sea sponge aggregations) and moving out of the VME area. While the certified fishery is well managed, a more effective harvest strategy and harvest control rules is recommended. There are also issues with a high catch of blue skate (critically endangered).


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
Sturgeon (Farmed)


Fisheries Innovation Scotland, 2020. Press Release: Trial of fisheries bycatch reduction tool on the west of Scotland – new App now available. Available at https://fiscot.org/trial-of-fisheries-bycatch-reduction-tool-on-the-west-of-scotland-new-app-now-available [Accessed on 15.07.2020].

ICES. 2020. Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) in Division 6.b (Rockall). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, had.27.6b. Available at https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5921 [Accessed on 14.07.2020].

ICES. 2020. Working Group for the Celtic Seas Ecoregion (WGCSE). ICES Scientific Reports. 2:40. xx pp. Available at http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.5978 [Accessed on 13.07.2020].

ICES. 2020. Stock Annex 4.3: Haddock in Division 6b. Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Stock%20Annexes/2020/had.27.6b_SA.pdf [Accessed on 14.07.2020].

ICES, 2019. NEAFC request to evaluate a harvest control component of a long-term management plan for haddock at Rockall. In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, sr.2019.17. Available at https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5588 [Accessed on 14.07.2020].

Seafish, 2019. Gear Profile: Long line. Available at https://www.seafish.org/gear/gear/profile/long-line [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

Seafish, 2017. RASS Profile: Haddock in Division VIb (Rockall), demersal otter trawl. Available at https://www.seafish.org/risk-assessment-for-sourcing-seafood/profile/haddock-in-division-vib-rockall-demersal-otter-trawl [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

Pham, C., Diogo, H., Menezes, G. Porteiro, F., Braga-Henriques, A., Vandeperre, F. and Morato, T., 2015. Deep-water longline fishing has reduced impact on Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems. Nature Scientific Reports: 4, 4837. doi:10.1038/srep04837 [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

Duran Munoz, P., Murillo, F., Sayago-Gil, M., Serrano, A., Laporta, M., Otero, I., and Gomez, C., 2011. Effects of deep-sea bottom longlining on the Hatton Bank fish communities and benthic ecosystem, north-east Atlantic. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 91(4), 939-952. doi:10.1017/S0025315410001773 [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

Jones, H., Cook, R., des Clers, S. and Delau, M., 2020. Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) 1st Surveillance Audit Report: SFSAG Rockall haddock On behalf of Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG). Published on 04.02.2020. Prepared by Control Union Pesca Ltd. Lymington, UK., Available at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/scottish-fisheries-sustainable-accreditation-group-sfsag-rockall-haddock/@@assessments [Accessed on 14.07.2019].

Midteide, S., Lassen, H. and Gaudian G., 2019. Surveillance audit no. 1: Report for the NFA Norwegian Ling & Tusk fishery and NFA Norwegian Lumpfish fishery. Available at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/nfa-norway-ling-tusk-and-nfa-norway-lumpfish/@@assessments [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

Andersen, O. R. J., Small, C. J., Croxall, J. P., Dunn, E. K., Sullivan, B. J., Yates, O. and Black, A., 2011. Global seabird bycatch in longline fisheries. Endangered Species Research, 14, 91-106. Supplementary materials (pg. 9). Available at https://www.int-res.com/articles/esr_oa/n014p091.pdf [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

SFSAG, 2019. Voluntary Code of Conduct for SFSAG vessels operating in the Rockall Bank Haddock Fishery. Available at http://scottishfsag.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Voluntary-Code-of-Conduct-for-SFSAG-vessels-operating-in-the-Rockall-Bank-Final.pdf [Accessed on 06.12.2019].