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Cod, Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Gill net,Fixed net
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - North Sea, Skagerrak and Eastern Channel
Stock detail - IIIa, IV, VIId
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

There is a long term management plan in place for the recovery of the stock in the combined area (Skagerrak, North Sea, eastern Channel) and as a result it has experienced a gradual improvement in it's status over the last few years with continued increases in stock abundance reported in all areas apart from the south of the area. Although fishing mortality continues to decrease it is still too high. Atlantic cod is listed by OSPAR as a threatened and declining species and by IUCN as vulnerable in Greater North Sea and Celtic Sea. Only choose fish from gillnet fisheries using acoustic devices or pingers to reduce Harbor porpoise entanglement in nets.

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
North Sea, Skagerrak and Eastern Channel

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Stock information
Although stock levels in the North Sea have declined from a peak of 250,000 tonnes in the early 1970s there has been a gradual improvement in the status of the stock in the combined area (Skagerrak, North Sea, eastern Channel) over the last few years with continued increases in stock abundance reported in all areas apart from the south of the area. The spawning stock biomass (SSB) has increased from the historical low in 2006 to a level now estimated as close to 165,000 tonnes (MSY Btrigger) in 2016 (SSB at 145,000 t when the stock was assessed last year). Fishing mortality (F) declined from 2000 but is currrently estimated to be above FMSY. Recruitment since 1998 has been poor. Although discards remain high (25% in 2015; 23% in 2014) relative to historical levels, there has been a decreasing trend since 2008. ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2017 should be no more than 47 431 tonnes. If this stock is not under the EU landing obligation in 2017 and discard rates do not change from 2015, this implies landings of no more than 38 691 tonnes (40,419 t in 2016; 26,713t in 2015; 28,809 in 2014; 25, 441 in 2013; 31,800 t in 2012).

Management

The introduction of a Harvest Control rule in 2009 has seen Spawning Stock Biomass rise. Restrictions on catches have resulted in 60% reduction in fishing mortality and 50% in harvest rate since 2000. A real-time closure system aimed at protecting juvenile fish has been in force since 1976. Fishing is prohibited, for at least two weeks, in areas where the proportion by number of small cod (< 55 cm) in the catches is observed by inspectors to exceed 25%. Since 1995, spawning areas have been closed for 2-3 weeks during the spawning season for all fisheries. This measure was aimed at protecting spawning fish. In 2005, the maximum mesh size allowed in gillnets was decreased to 20.3 cm (8 inches) in order to protect the largest spawners, but this mesh size ban was lifted in 2012. The mesh size in the codend in the trawling fishery was increased from 120 mm to 155 mm in 1977. Since 1998 the minimum codend mesh size allowed is 135 mm, provided that a so-called "Polish cover" is not used. The longline, handline and Danish seine fishery for cod in Iceland's EEZ was certified to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard as an environmentally responsible fishery in June 2011.

Capture information

Gillnets can be very size selective for the target fish but can be unselective at the species level for both non-target fish and for mammals, birds and turtles. The gillnet fishery for cod in these areas takes bycatches of harbour porpoise. Harbour porpoise are highly prone to bycatch in bottom-set gillnets used to catch demersal species such as cod, turbot, hake, saithe, sole, skate and dogfish and tangle net fisheries used to capture flat fish and crustaceans, due largely to their feeding habits on or near the seabed. Porpoises are generally taken as single animals. EU Regulation 821/2004 requires all community fishing vessels, greater than or equal to 12 metres, using drift, gill and tangle nets to use pingers - acoustic devices to deter marine mammal entanglement in net. A preliminary assessment of overall harbour porpoise bycatch rates in the North Sea was carried out using information gathered since 1995. This assessment indicated that bycatch rates in some fisheries may be above any proposed reference limits, but the uncertainty is large. Compared to bycatch rates observed in the 1990s bycatch has decreased mostly as a result of a substantial reduction in fishing effort. The minimum landing size for cod in waters in Skagerrak/Kattegat is 30cm. In all other EU waters it is 35cm. The approximate size at which 50% of females first spawn is, however, 60 to 70cm.

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.

Alfonsino

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
The Net Effect. A WDCS Report for Greenpeace. Ross and Isaac (2004); The Price of Fish: A review of cetacean bycatch in fisheries in the north-east Atantic. L Nunny (2011);
ICES Advice 2016, Book 6 http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2016/2016/cod-347d.pdf;
http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2014/2014/Bycatch_of_small_cetaceans_and_other_marine_animals.pdf;
http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&ProjectID=18535

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