About the Species
Although populations are well below target levels, U.S. wild-caught Atlantic cod is still a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed under a rebuilding plan that allows limited harvest by U.S. fishermen.
Significantly below target population levels. Rebuilding plans are in place.
Reduced to end overfishing.
Area closures and gear restrictions protect habitat that are affected by some kinds of trawl gear.
Regulations and the use of modified fishing gear reduce bycatch.
- Gulf of Maine stock:
- According to the 2017 stock assessment, the Gulf of Maine stock is overfished and below the target biomass level.
- A revised 10-year rebuilding plan was implemented for this stock in 2014.
- Georges Bank stock:
- According to the 2017 stock assessment, the Georges Bank stock is overfished.
- The Georges Bank stock is scheduled to rebuild by 2027.
- Both stocks are subject to overfishing. Fishing is still allowed, but at reduced levels.
- Historically, cod was so abundant off New England that early explorers named Cape Cod for the fish. Furthermore, Gloucester was established by a colonial charter issued to profit from cod fishing, and a painted “sacred cod” carved from pine has hung in the Massachusetts state house since 1784 as a symbol of prosperity.
- Due to high fishing pressure throughout the latter part of the 20th century, there are fewer fish in the U.S. stocks of Atlantic cod than the average for the past four decades.
- A primary source of rebuilding potential is the number of young fish coming into the population (recruitment). Over the past 20 years, recruitment has varied for the Gulf of Maine stock, and has been well below average for the Georges Bank stock.
- Atlantic cod are heavy-bodied with a large head, blunt snout, and a distinct barbel (a whisker-like organ, like on a catfish) under the lower jaw.
- Their coloring varies, ranging from light yellowish-green to red and olive, usually with darker speckles on the head, fins, tail, and body. The belly is light colored and usually spotless. Individuals can change color readily.
- Cod have an obvious lateral line (the faint line that runs lengthwise down each side of the fish).
- Atlantic cod can live more than 20 years.
- They can grow up to 51 inches and 77 pounds.
- They are capable of reproducing at 2 to 3 years old, when they are between 12 and 16 inches long.
- Cod spawn near the ocean floor from winter to early spring.
- Larger females can produce 3 to 9 million eggs when they spawn.
- They are top predators in the bottom ocean community, feeding on a variety of invertebrates and fish.
Where They Live
- In the Northwest Atlantic, cod range from Greenland to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
- In U.S. waters, cod is most common on Georges Bank and in the western Gulf of Maine.
- There are two stocks of Atlantic cod in U.S. waters, the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank stocks.
- NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council manage Gulf of Maine cod. NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council collaborate with Canada to jointly manage Georges Bank cod, because the stock spans the international boundary.
- Atlantic cod, along with other groundfish in New England waters, are managed under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, which includes:
- Permitting requirements for commercial vessels.
- Separate management measures for recreational vessels.
- Year-round and seasonal area closures to protect spawning fish and habitat.
- Minimum fish sizes to prevent harvest of juvenile fish.
- Annual catch limits, based on best available science.
- An optional sector (catch share) program can be used for cod and other groundfish species. The sector program allows fishermen to form harvesting cooperatives and work together to decide when, where, and how they harvest fish.