Pacific Cod

Illustration of pacific cod

Gadus macrocephalus


    Cod, Alaska cod, Gray cod, True cod


    U.S. wild-caught from Alaska, Washington, and Oregon



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Pacific Cod

Pacific cod larvae 3 weeks after hatching.


A mild-tasting whitefish, Pacific cod have been fished commercially in Alaska waters off and on since the 19th century. Pacific cod was heavily harvested in this area by Japanese and Russian fisheries in the 1970s and 1980s. With the passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1976, the United States regained control of its waters and phased out foreign and joint-venture fishing for cod by 1991. Today, Pacific cod supports one of the largest and most valuable fisheries in the United States. The majority of U.S. Pacific cod catches are from Alaska waters. In fact, Pacific cod is the second highest commercial groundfish catch off Alaska, behind pollock. Alaska fisheries for Pacific cod account for more than two-thirds of the world’s Pacific cod supply, and are considered among the best managed fisheries in the world.

Looking Ahead

Pacific cod are an important part of the diet of Steller sea lions, and much of the area used by the Pacific cod fishery is Steller sea lion “critical habitat” because of the prey resources that are found there. As a result, fishery managers have implemented measures to ensure the cod fishery is not likely to deplete this important source of sea lion prey or harm their habitat. These measures spread fishing over certain times and areas to minimize potential competition for Pacific cod (and other key Steller sea lion prey) in waters adjacent to rookeries and haul-outs in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska.



Pacific cod are found in the coastal North Pacific Ocean, from the Bering Sea to Southern California in the east and to the Sea of Japan in the west. Pacific cod are less common in Central California and are rare in Southern California.

Pacific cod live on the continental shelf edge and upper continental slope in waters 300 to more than 800 feet deep during the winter and move to shallower waters (less than 300 feet deep) in the summer. Larvae and small juveniles are found throughout the water column; large juveniles and adults live near the ocean floor and prefer habitats of mud, sand, and clay.



Pacific cod have a relatively short life of less than 20 years. They grow quickly, up to more than 6 feet in length (although cod of this size are rare). Females are able to reproduce when they’re 4 to 5 years old (between 1.6 and 1.9 feet in length). Depending on their location, Pacific cod spawn from January through May on the continental shelf edge and upper slope in water 330 to 820 feet deep. Female cod can produce more than 1 million eggs. After eggs are fertilized, they sink to the bottom and larvae begin to hatch within a month.

Pacific cod school together and move seasonally from deep outer and upper continental shelf areas where they spawn to shallow middle-upper continental shelf feeding grounds. They feed on clams, worms, crabs, shrimp, and juvenile fish. Halibut, sharks, seabirds, and marine mammals prey on Pacific cod. Pacific cod is also a major part of the diet of Steller sea lions.




Pacific cod are also known as gray cod because of their color—they’re brown or grayish with dark spots or patterns on the sides and a paler belly. They have a long chin barbell (a whisker-like organ near the mouth, like on a catfish) and dusky fins with white edges.



Scientists at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center conduct groundfish assessments and other research on Pacific cod to inform management decisions.



In Alaska, scientists and managers determine the population status of Pacific cod based on estimates of “spawning biomass,” a measure of the number of females in the population that are able to reproduce. Estimated biomass has fluctuated over the past few decades—the stock increased rapidly, peaked in the 1980s, then declined slightly and stabilized. A recent stock assessment (2013) showed that both the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska stocks are not overfished, and overfishing is not occurring.  Although there was a recent stock assessment (2013) for the Aleutian Island stock, data are insufficient to determine the population status at this time.

The West Coast population of Pacific cod has never been formally assessed. Pacific cod are rarely available in this area in large numbers, so stock status on the West Coast is unknown.



Changes in climate may be affecting the abundance of Pacific cod. Scientists at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center and Oregon State University are working together to determine how climate change could impact growth and development of young Pacific cod in the Bering Sea. They will examine how temperature differences influence the timing and size of plankton blooms in the Bering Sea, which help determine the quality of habitat for Pacific cod.

Alaska Fisheries Science Center research on Pacific cod.


Harvesting Pacific cod

Pacific cod support important commercial fisheries from the Bering Sea to Northern California. Pacific cod are typically harvested along with several different groundfish species with longlines (hook-and-line) and bottom trawl gear. Pots (or traps) and jig gear are also used to catch Pacific cod. In the Gulf of Alaska,  the dominant gear over the last decade has been pots. In the Aleutian Islands, trawl gear accounted for 75 percent of the catch over the last 5 years. In the Bering Sea, longline gear accounted for 57 percent of the catch over the last 5 years.

These gear types contact the seafloor across many different habitats. Bottom trawl vessels cause minimal damage when targeting Pacific cod over soft bottoms. Trawls can have negative impacts in areas where Pacific cod are associated with living structural habitats, such as corals and sea whips. Some areas are closed to certain gear types to protect sensitive habitat and organisms.

Measures restricting the type of gear fishermen may use, and when and where they may fish reduce bycatch of other species in the Alaska Pacific cod fisheries. There are also limits on the amount of Pacific halibut that can be incidentally caught in trawl and hook-and-line fisheries. Longlines are known to catch seabirds incidentally, but current measures are reducing seabird bycatch.

Off the West Coast, fishermen follow a number of management measures to reduce bycatch:

  • Area closures, reduced trip limits, and non-retention rules to minimize impact to overfished rockfish.
  • Gear restrictions, including minimum trawl mesh sizes, small footrope regulations, and the mandatory use of selective flatfish trawl nets off the coasts of Oregon (north of 40 degrees 10 minutes N. lat) and Washington.
  • Variable catch limits to encourage fishing with gears and in areas with less bycatch.

Bycatch is also closely monitored under the West Coast groundfish trawl catch share program.



Who’s in charge? The North Pacific Fishery Management Council develops regulations for the Alaska Pacific cod fisheries; the Pacific Fishery Management Council develops regulations for the fisheries off Washington and Oregon. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for approving and implementing these regulations.

Current management: In Alaska waters, Pacific cod fisheries are managed separately. In the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod are managed under groundfish fishery management plans. Fishermen must have a permit to participate in these fisheries, and the number of available permits is limited to control the amount of fishing. Every year, managers determine how much Pacific cod can be caught and then allocate this catch quota among groups of fishermen. Catch is monitored through record keeping, reporting requirements, and observer monitoring.

Groundfish Fishery Management Plan for the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands

  • 10.7 percent of the allowable catch is allocated to the “Community Development Quota Program,” which benefits fishery-dependent communities in western Alaska; the rest is allocated among the various fishing sectors based on gear type, vessel size, and ability to process their catch.
  • Fishermen must retain all of their Pacific cod catch.

Groundfish Fishery Management Plan for the Gulf of Alaska

  • Total allowable catch is allocated by gear type and processing sector in the western and central Gulf of Alaska and by processing sector (90 percent to the inshore sector and 10 percent to the offshore sector) in the eastern Gulf of Alaska.
  • Fishermen must retain all of their Pacific cod catch.

Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan

Pacific cod are rarely available in large numbers to be caught in the groundfish fishery off the West Coast. Managers use recent historical harvest numbers to set precautionary limits on annual catch for this population.

  • The West Coast groundfish trawl fishery is now managed under a trawl rationalization catch share program.
  • Managers establish annual catch limits based on the health of each fish stock and then allocate a share of this catch limit to individual fishermen or groups of fishermen. Fishermen can decide how and when to catch their share – preferably when weather, markets, and business conditions are most favorable, allowing the fishery the flexibility to be more environmentally responsible, safer, more efficient, and more valuable. The goal is to allow fishermen to catch more of the healthy target stocks without increasing their harvest of overfished stocks.

Annual Harvest

Pacific cod is the second largest commercial groundfish catch off Alaska and virtually all of the United States. Pacific cod is caught mostly in Alaska waters. Pacific cod harvests from the U.S. West Coast average only 1 percent of total U.S. harvest. Total landings of Pacific cod in 2012 were more than 700 million pounds.



The Pacific cod fishery is important to the economy of coastal Alaskan communities. It is the second largest groundfish fishery in Alaska (after pollock). 2012 landings were valued at more than $185 million.

Although the majority of catch is in Alaskan waters, Pacific cod catch is an important component of the northern West Coast commercial fishing fleet’s annual economic stability. In 2012 catch in this region was worth more than $790,000. Smaller vessels, especially those closer to markets on the West Coast, can add value to their catch by bleeding and gutting landed Pacific cod prior to placing them into the fish hold.



Recreational fishing for Pacific cod in Alaska is minor compared to commercial fishing and mainly takes place in state waters (within 3 miles of shore). According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, disclaimer recreational fishing for Pacific cod has grown in recent years, with fishermen catching more than 236,400 pounds in 2012. Recreational fishermen follow state regulations.



Most Pacific cod comes from the Bering and Barents Seas and the Gulf of Alaska and is harvested by the United States, Canada, Russia, and Korea. You can find this mild-tasting fish in the market in a variety of fresh, frozen, or value-added forms, from whole fish to fillets and cod cheeks.

Although Pacific and Atlantic cod fillets can be used interchangeably, Pacific cod fillets are larger and thicker. Raw Pacific cod is opaque and creamy white. Cooked cod is white, lean, and flaky. Its moisture content is a bit higher than that of Atlantic cod, making the meat less firm. (SeafoodSource) disclaimer






Cod is a good source of low fat protein, phosphorus, niacin, and vitamin B12.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g
Calories 82
Protein 17.9 g
Fat, total 0.63 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.081 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 37 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 71 mg

Pacific Cod Table of Nutrition