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Cod, Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Gill or fixed net
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - Celtic Sea
Stock detail - VII e-k
Certification -
Fish type - White round fish

Sustainability rating Click for explaination of rating

This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed above, is not a good choice of sustainable fish to eat and should be only eaten very occasionally. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find more sustainable fish to eat.


Sustainability overview

The stock size in this area is just above the lowest observed limit (Blim, 7,300t). Although fishing pressure remains high and is above MSY in 2016, the stock is being harvested sustainably. Atlantic cod is listed by OSPAR as a threatened and declining species in this area. There is some uncertainty in the estimation of discard rates. Discards normally constitute about 10% of the total catch, but discard rates in recent years have fluctuated substantially because of variable recruitment and restrictive quotas.

Biology

Cod belongs to a family of fish known as gadoids, which also includes species such as haddock, pollack, pouting and ling. It is a cold-temperate (boreal) marine, demersal (bottom-dwelling) species. Also found in brackish water. Their depth range is 0 - 600 m, but they are more usually found between 150 and 200 m. They have a common length of 100 cm. Maximum length 200 cm. Maximum published weight 96 kg and a maximum reported age of 25 years. In the North Sea cod mature at 4-5 years at a length of about 50 cm. They spawn in winter and the beginning of spring from February to April. Fecundity ranges from 2.5 million eggs in a 5 kg female to a record of 9 million eggs in a 34 kg female. Sex ratio is nearly 50%, with slight predominance of females. The fish has a protruding upper jaw, a conspicuous barbel on the lower jaw (used to look for food), and a light lateral line, curved above the pectoral fins. Widely distributed in a variety of habitats, from the shoreline down to the continental shelf. Juveniles prefer shallow (less than 10-30 m depth) sublittoral waters with complex habitats, such as seagrass beds, areas with gravel, rocks, or boulder, which provide protection from predators. Adults are usually found in deeper, colder waters. During the day, cod form schools and swim about 30-80 m above the bottom, dispersing at night to feed.

Stock information

Stock area
Celtic Sea

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Stock information
Spawning-stock biomass (SSB) was below Blim (7,300 t) in 2014 and 2015 and just above this level in 2016. Fishing mortality (F) has fluctuated in recent years remaining well above FMSY but was below Fpa in 2015. Recruitment has been highly variable over time. Recent recruitment has been weak with the exception of the 2013 year class, which is above average. The 2014 year class is the lowest observed in the time-series. 80% of landings are made up of age groups 1-3 with the stock heavily dependent on incoming recruitment. Atlantic cod is listed by OSPAR as a threatened and declining species in the Greater North Sea and the Celtic Sea. ICES advice is that the wanted catch (fish that would be landed in the absence of the EU landing obligation) in 2017 should be no more than 1447 tonnes (Landings of no more than 3,569 in 2016; 3,544t in 2015; 6,848t in 2014; 10,200 t in 2013). ICES cannot quantify the corresponding total catches.

Management

There is no management plan for cod in this area. In order to protect cod stocks in this area, Cornish fishermen's leaders, and their Irish and French counterparts, went to the European Commission with proposals for a 3,600 sq. mile 'closed season' off Trevose Head in the Bristol Channel. The closure was first introduced in February 2005. As far as MCS is aware, this is the largest industry proposed conservation closure area in Europe. It has been concluded that the closure is a potentially effective measure for protecting spawning aggregations of cod off North Cornwall. A management plan for this stock is under development by the North Western Waters Regional Advisory Council (NWWRAC).

Fishing mortality on cod is difficult to control because of the mixed-fisheries interactions. ICES cannot quantify the corresponding total catches due to uncertainty in the estimation of discard rates. Discards normally constitute about 10% of the total catch, but discard rates in recent years have fluctuated substantially because of variable recruitment and restrictive quotas.

Capture information

Cod is caught in mixed demersal fisheries in a number of ways including by demersal otter trawl (77%), beam trawl (8%) and gillnet (6%). There is potential damage to the seabed by trawling. Trawling is also associated with discarding of unwanted fish, i.e. undersized and/or non-quota and/or over-quota species. From a total catch of 7.3 kt in 2011 35% was discarded. A major reason (70%) for discarding was attributed to highgrading - which is the throwing away of marketable fish for better quality fish in order to maximise the value of the catch. Discard figures in more recent years are much improved. In 2015, 12% of the total cod catch of 4772 t was discarded, with otter and beam trawling accounting for 75% and 19% respectively. Discard rates in recent years have fluctuated substantially due to variable recruitment, with rates increasing with increased amounts of young fish entering the fishery and when quotas are restrictive. The recent technical measures introduced in the Celtic Sea (square mesh panels) are not expected to significantly reduce discards of Celtic Sea cod because they pass through the selection window quickly due to their fast growth rate.

Read more about capture methods

Alternatives

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 Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Bass, seabass (Farmed) Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Bream, Gilthead (Farmed) Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Cod, Atlantic Cod Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Coley, Saithe Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Haddock Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Hake, Cape

Hake, European Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Japanese amberjack, Yellowtail or Seriola

Pollock, Alaska, Walleye Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Pouting or Bib Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Sturgeon (Farmed) Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Tilapia

Whiting Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.


References
ICES Advice 2016, Book 5 http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2016/2016/cod-7e-k.pdf

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