Gadus morhua (Atlantic cod), Gadus macrocephalus (Pacific cod)
cod, scrod, whitefish
Decades of intensive fishing of Atlantic cod have led to a dramatic fall in stocks on both sides of the ocean. Scientists believe that we are currently fishing the 10% that remains of the original North America populations, which are at risk of never being able to fully regenerate. Some populations are so reduced that they appear in lists of endangered species at risk of extinction.
Atlantic cod is usually caught using midwater and bottom trawling. Trawl nets catch everything in their path, including endangered sea turtles, juvenile fish, sharks and other marine life. This bycatch is thrown back overboard, dead or dying. Bottom trawling, in which a heavy net is dragged along the sea floor, can also seriously damage marine ecosystems.
A tiny proportion of cod is caught using fishing lines, a method which does not harm the seabed environment and creates much less bycatch.
Advice and Alternatives
Given the precarious situation of the stocks and the serious damage caused by trawl fishing, do not buy Atlantic or Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) caught using this method. In general, Pacific cod is more abundant than Atlantic, and so should be preferred. When available, cod caught with longlines (preferably using techniques that protect sea birds from accidental capture) is a better choice which minimizes harm to the environment. Certified organic farmed cod can be another valid option.
Consult online guides for sustainable alternatives in your region.
Marine Conservation Society Fishonline
Monterey Bay Aquarium