Cod

It has been over 15 years since the moratorium on fishing Atlantic cod in eastern Canada, but the fish stocks have not replenished. The disappearance of cod in the region is a wake up call on the effect that overfishing can have on a fish stock. WWF works with governments and the fishing industry to see that other cod stocks in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans avoid a similar fate.
Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) aquaculture, Newfoundland, Canada. rel=
Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) aquaculture, Newfoundland, Canada.
© Gilbert Van Ryckevorsel / WWF-Canada

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Key Facts

  • Common Name

    Cod

  • Scientific Name

    Genus: Gadus

  • Weight

    5kg-12kg

  • Endangered?

    Atlantic cod is listed as vulnerable by IUCN

  • How many?

    Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus), Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and Greenland cod (Gadus ogac).

  • Geographic location

    Colder waters and deep sea regions throughout the Northern Atlantic and eastern and western regions of the Pacific

When fishing went wrong

The collapse of the Grand Banks fisheries in the 1990s finally proved that our oceans are not a bottomless pit to be exploited without care or concern for the consequences.

Cod is a popular food fish with a mild flavor, low fat content and a dense white flesh that flakes easily. Cod livers are processed to make cod liver oil, a nutritional supplement

In the UK, Atlantic cod is one of the most common kinds of fish to be found in fish and chips, It is also well known for being largely consumed in Portugal and Spain.

Always more fish in the sea? Not anymore

Western Europe accounts for 70–80% of the world cod market, with the UK being Europe’s largest importer and consumer. Cod, together with the similar whitefish pollock and hake, accounts for one-third of all seafood imports into the EU.

European fleets*: Norway, Iceland, Russia, Faeroe Islands, Denmark, Spain, UK, Germany, Poland, Sweden, France, Portugal, Latvia, Lithuania, Belgium, Netherlands, Estonia, Ireland, Finland, Isle of Man, Channel Islands

* in order of landings in 2004, largest to smallest; countries in bold accounted for 77% of the total catch.

What are the main threats to cod?

Cod are currently at risk from overfishing in the UK, Canada and most other Atlantic countries. As fisheries have become more efficient at catching cod, populations have declined.

Continued unregulated, unreported and illegal fishing, together with liberal quotas mean the stocks do not have a chance to recover. Use of indiscriminate fishing gear which leads to cod bycatch also contributes to the problem.

Global cod catch has suffered a 70% drop over the last 30 years, and if this trend continues, the world’s cod stocks will disappear in 15 years. Despite a moratorium of over 15 years, cod stocks in Canada's Grand Banks have still not recovered and there are fears the ecosystem has been permanently altered by humanity's greed.

Cod drying. Lofoten Islands, Norway. / ©: Nigel Allan
Cod drying. Lofoten Islands, Norway.
© Nigel Allan

Priority species

Cod are a WWF priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.

What is WWF doing?

WWF works with fisheries around the world to reduce ecosystem harm caused by damaging and wasteful fishing practices.

WWF lobbies government and fishery management organisations calling for quotas to be set at sustainable levels.


It works with retailers and consumers to promote Marine Stewardship Council certification.

WWF promotes smart fishing gear and lobbies for its introduction on a compulsory basis. This includes eliminator trawls which allows cod to escape when the quota is almost reached, reducing unnecessary discard and bycatch.
 / ©: Sabine Vielmo
WWF protests against EU Maritime Policy with cod skeleton in Bremen, Germany. The sculpture was created by the British artist Richard Sharples.
© Sabine Vielmo
 / ©: MSC
Look for the MSC logo when buying cod and other seafood.
© MSC

How you can help

Make a donation

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Did you know?

    • A large female cod can lay up to 5 million eggs in the middle of the ocean, but only a very small number will survive.
    • If just 2 of the millions of eggs laid by a female during her lifetime survive to adulthood, the population can remain stable.
    • Atlantic cod can change colour at certain water depths, going from grey-green to reddish brown.
    • Approximately 30,000 people lost their jobs in Newfoundland when the Grand Banks fishery collapsed.
  • Collapse of Atlantic cod stocks off the East Coast of Newfoundland in 1992. / ©: Philippe Rekacewicz, Emmanuelle Bournay, UNEP/GRID-Arendal
    Collapse of Atlantic cod stocks off the East Coast of Newfoundland in 1992.

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