Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Last updated: February 21, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

The Atlantic cod is one of the most popular food fishes in the world!


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Atlantic Cod Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Gadiformes
Family
Gadidae
Genus
Gadus
Scientific Name
Gadus morhua

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Atlantic Cod Conservation Status

Atlantic Cod Locations

Atlantic Cod Locations

Atlantic Cod Facts

Prey
Invertebrates and fish like herring, capelin, mackerel, and small haddock
Name Of Young
Fry
Group Behavior
  • School
Fun Fact
The Atlantic cod is one of the most popular food fishes in the world!
Biggest Threat
Overfishing
Most Distinctive Feature
Single barbel on its chin
Other Name(s)
Cod, codling
Average Spawn Size
3 to 9 million eggs
Predators
Sharks, marine mammals, humans
Lifestyle
  • Crepuscular
Number Of Species
1
Slogan
One of the most popular food fishes in the world

Atlantic Cod Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Green
Skin Type
Scales
Age of Sexual Maturity
2-3 years old
Venomous
No
Aggression
Medium

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The Atlantic cod is a historically important fish species that has sustained human populations near the North Atlantic for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Its flesh is mild and tasty with ample nutrients and low fat content. As a benthopelagic predator, it remains near the top of its ecosystem, falling prey mainly to sharks and marine mammals. Unfortunately, overfishing and habitat concerns have depleted their numbers over the past few decades.

3 Atlantic Cod Facts

  • A capable predator: Though this fish has a few predators of its own, it also preys on a number of other species, including other fish and invertebrates.
  • Occasionally cannibalistic: Adults of this species sometimes prey on their own juvenile members.
  • Commercially important: This species remains vital to commercial fisheries in the North Atlantic despite its low stocks.

Atlantic Cod Classification and Scientific Name

The scientific name for the Atlantic cod is Gadus morhua. The name Gadus derives from the Latin for “fish” or “cod.” Other names for this species include cod or codling.

This species belongs to the class Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes) and the order Gadiformes (cods and allies). It further falls into the family Gadidae (codfishes) and the genus Gadus, which contains three species of fish. These have traditionally included the Atlantic cod, the Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus), and the Greenland cod (Gadus ogac). A fourth species, the walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma), is currently considered part of the genus by many scientists.

Atlantic Cod Appearance

Several Atlantic Cod Underwater

Several Atlantic cod underwater.

©Pix Box/Shutterstock.com

Dorsally, these fish range in color from brownish to greenish to gray. Dorsal spots accompany this coloration, which fades to silver on their bellies. Color changes in individual fish are known to occur. A pale lateral line, curved over the pectoral fin, marks both sides from near the eyes to the tail.



These heavy-bodied fish possess three dorsal fins, two anal fins, and pectoral and pelvic fins. Their large heads feature blunt snouts and barbels on their lower jaws. The typical size range for adults of this species falls between 39 and 51 inches in length, though the largest specimen on record attained a length of 78.7 inches (6.5 feet). Although most do not surpass 77 pounds, exceptional individuals have been known to exceed 200 pounds.

Atlantic Cod Distribution, Population, and Habitat

Atlantic cod inhabit the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans from Greenland to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, USA. In North America, they are most common on Georges Bank and the western Gulf of Maine. Their range also includes much of the western coastline of Europe. Below is a table of the countries and islands with populations of this species. It may appear in China as well, though experts have not confirmed its presence.

These fish are capable of surviving in both marine and brackish water from the shoreline to the continental shelf. Adults typically prefer deeper and colder waters, unlike juveniles who seek out hiding places among seagrass and rocks in shallower waters. They swim at depths up to 1,970 feet, though they usually do not exceed depths of 660 feet.

The IUCN currently lists this species as Vulnerable, although their last assessment took place in 1996. Although efforts are in place to increase stocks, their numbers remain low.

Atlantic Cod Evolution and History

The Gadiformes, or codfishes, date back in the fossil record to the Palaeogene. The most ancient records originate in the Danian (66 to 61.6 million years ago) and Selandian (61.6 to 59.2 million years ago) stages. Scientists discovered these records in Europe and South Australia.

The order diversified quickly sometime after the early Palaeocene or late Cretaceous. Originally, codfishes preferred shallow-shelf environments, but they soon adapted to thrive in deeper water. Certain species within this order, including the Atlantic cod, eventually became isolated in the North Atlantic as opposed to further south.

Humans have fished for Atlantic cod for at least a thousand years and potentially much longer. Northern Europeans in countries like Norway and Sweden have relied on this species for centuries, even going so far as to cross the Atlantic Ocean in pursuit of cod populations. Indigenous peoples along the eastern coast of North America have also traditionally fished for cod for centuries, if not millennia.

Atlantic Cod Predators and Prey

Atlantic cod are top predators along the ocean floor, though they also make ready prey for larger marine species. They are crepuscular feeders, hunting their prey in the dim light of dawn and dusk.

What Do Atlantic Cod Eat?

These fish are omnivorous, feeding on both plant and animal matter. Juveniles mainly eat small crustaceans like shrimp while adults prey on both invertebrates and other fish like herring, capelin, mackerel, and small haddock. They can also be cannibalistic, hunting juveniles of their own species.

What Eats Atlantic Cod?

This species typically falls prey to marine mammals and sharks like the spiny dogfish. As juveniles, these fish may also become the target of larger members of their own species. Humans are among their most avid hunters, which has led to the decline of the species.

Atlantic Cod Reproduction and Lifespan

Atlantic cod reproduce offshore in winter and early spring. Spawning takes place near or on the ocean floor, typically at depths between 165 and 655 feet. Ideal spawning temperatures for this species lie between 32 and 53.6°F. However, if temperatures near the ocean floor are unfavorable, the fish may move to the water column.

Males and females reach sexual maturity between two and three years of age with a body length of 12-16 inches. Females produce between three and nine million eggs depending on their size. Larger females produce a greater number of eggs. They release the eggs into the water where the males fertilize them. The embryos develop over a period of about two weeks, though the larval phase lasts as long as three months. The larvae are pelagic until they reach about 2.5 months of age, after which they move to the ocean floor. These fish live to be up to 25 years old.

Atlantic Cod in Fishing and Cooking

Atlantic cod is a popular food fish with high economic importance. Both commercial and sport fishers prize this species for its tasty flesh. Recreational fishermen typically use lures or bait to catch these fish. Commercial fisheries use gillnets, trawl nets, longlines, and rod and reel. According to NOAA, commercial landings of this species in 2021 came to 1.3 million pounds with a value of $3 million. Recreational landings in 2021 came to 750,000 pounds.

The raw flesh of this fish is translucent with a pinkish-to-whitish hue. This transitions to an opaque white as it cooks. Its meat is flaky and tender, though less moist and therefore firmer than Pacific cod. Its taste is mild and sweeter than that of its Pacific cousin, making it the perfect dish for herbs like dill and cilantro.

This fish benefits from a number of cooking methods including baking, broiling, frying, sautéing, and steaming. Per 100 grams, its lean flesh contains 82 calories, 0.7 grams of fat, 17.8 grams of protein, and 0.2 grams of Omega 3. Discover 37 ways to prepare cod or try this simple baked cod recipe.

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About the Author

Kathryn Dueck is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, dogs, and geography. Kathryn holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical and Theological Studies, which she earned in 2023. In addition to volunteering at an animal shelter, Kathryn has worked for several months as a trainee dog groomer. A resident of Manitoba, Canada, Kathryn loves playing with her dog, writing fiction, and hiking.

Atlantic Cod FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where are Atlantic cod found?

This species inhabits the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans from Greenland to North Carolina and along the western coastline of Europe.

Is Atlantic cod good to eat

Atlantic cod is a popular food fish with a mild flavor and lean, tender meat.

Is Atlantic cod healthy?

Atlantic cod is a healthy food fish. Its lean flesh is low in fat with a number of important vitamins and minerals.

Is Atlantic cod an endangered species?

The IUCN lists this species as Vulnerable as of 1996.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Encyclopedia of Life, Available here: https://eol.org/pages/46564415
  2. FishBase, Available here: https://www.fishbase.se/summary/gadus-morhua.html
  3. IUCN Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/8784/12931575
  4. Kriwet, Jürgen; Hecht, Thomas, Available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5314256_A_review_of_early_gadiform_evolution_and_diversification_First_record_of_a_rattail_fish_skull_Gadiformes_Macrouridae_from_the_Eocene_of_Antarctica_with_otoliths_preserved_in_situ
  5. NOAA Fisheries, Available here: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/atlantic-cod
  6. Bon Appétit, Available here: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/cod-fish-recipes
  7. The Mediterranean Dish, Available here: https://www.themediterraneandish.com/baked-cod-recipe-lemon-garlic/
  8. SeafoodSource, Available here: https://www.seafoodsource.com/seafood-handbook/finfish/cod

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