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Pacific Cod

Gadus macrocephalus

Illustration of a pacific cod

Also Known As

  • Cod
  • Alaska cod
  • Gray cod
  • True cod

U.S. wild-caught Pacific cod is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

The Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska stocks are above target population levels. The Aleutian Islands stock status is unknown. The Pacific Coast stock has not been assessed.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

Area closures and gear restrictions protect habitat that are affected by some types of fishing gear used to harvest Pacific cod.

Bycatch

Measures restricting the type of gear fishermen may use and when and where they may fish reduce bycatch of other species in the U.S. Pacific cod fisheries.

  • Availability

    Year-round.

  • Source

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

  • Taste

    Pacific cod is a mild-tasting fish.

  • Texture

    Cooked Pacific cod is lean and flaky. Its moisture content is a bit higher than that of Atlantic cod, making the meat less firm.

  • Color

    Raw Pacific cod is opaque and creamy white. Cooked cod is white.

  • Health Benefits

    Pacific cod is a good source of low-fat protein, phosphorus, niacin, and vitamin B12.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, manage the Pacific cod fishery in Alaska.
  • Managed under the Gulf of Alaska Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:
    • 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.
  • Managed under the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:
    • 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.
  • In the Gulf of Alaska, Being Sea, and Aleutian Islands:
    • Fishermen must have a permit to participate in these fisheries, and the number of available permits is limited to control the amount of fishing.
    • 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.
    • Fishermen must retain all of their Pacific cod catch.
  • NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the Pacific cod fishery on the West Coast.
  • Managed under the 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 managed under a trawl rationalization catch share program.

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • Pacific cod is the second largest commercial groundfish catch off Alaska and virtually all of the United States.
    • In 2016, commercial harvest of Pacific cod totaled more than 708 million pounds, and was worth more than $171 million. 
    • 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.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • 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 has been pots, in the Aleutian Islands trawl gear is predominantly used, and in the Bering Sea longline gear is used most frequently.
    • Bottom trawl vessels cause minimal damage when targeting Pacific cod over soft ocean 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.
    • In Alaska, 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 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.
    • On the West Coast, area closures, reduced trip limits, non-retention rules, gear restrictions, and variable catch limits are used to help minimize impacts to overfished rockfish and prevent bycatch.
  • Recreational fishery:
    • 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). Recreational fishermen follow state regulations.

The Science

Population Status

  • There are four stocks of Pacific cod: Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands, and West Coast:
    • 2017 stock assessments in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska indicate that Pacific cod are not overfished and not subject to overfishing. 
    • Although there was a 2017 stock assessment for the Aleutian Islands stock, data are insufficient to determine the population status at this time.
    • The West Coast population of Pacific cod has never been formally assessed, but is not subject to overfishing based on 2016 catch data.
  • 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.

Location

  • 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.
  • They are less common in Central California and are rare in Southern California.

Habitat

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

Physical Description

  • 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.

Biology

  • Pacific cod live for 20 years or less.
  • They can grow up to 6 feet in length.
  • Females are able to reproduce when they’re 4 or 5 years old, when they are between 1.6 and 1.9 feet long.
  • Pacific cod spawn from January to May on the continental shelf edge and upper slope in waters 330 to 820 feet deep.
  • Females can produce more than 1 million eggs when they spawn.
  • 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.

Research

  • 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.

Last updated: 09/10/2018