Gadus spp.

Last updated: April 4, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Miroslav Halama/

Codfish are carnivorous and eat other fish, including young codfish.


Codfish Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Gadus spp.

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Codfish Conservation Status

Codfish Locations

Codfish Locations

Codfish Facts

Smaller fish, shellfish, crustaceans, worms
Group Behavior
  • School
Fun Fact
Codfish are carnivorous and eat other fish, including young codfish.
Estimated Population Size
Biggest Threat
Most Distinctive Feature
Beloved food around the world
Other Name(s)
Cod, codling
Gestation Period
8-23 days
Pacific and Atlantic oceans
Common Name
Codfish, cod
Number Of Species

Codfish Physical Characteristics

  • Green
  • Grey-Brown
Skin Type
15-25 years
33-212 lbs (15-96 kg)
77-200 cm (30-79 in)

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Female cod can lay up to 5 million eggs, with most being eaten by other fish and sea creatures.

Codfish is a type of saltwater fish, with “cod” the common name for the demersal or groundfish genus Gadus. The most common species are the Atlantic cod and Pacific cod, which are closely related. Both species are popular as food with somewhat different flavor profiles, while the livers from both species are used to make the popular home remedy of cod liver oil. Atlantic cod is classified as Vulnerable due to high demand.

4 Incredible Codfish Facts!

  • Codfish are carnivorous and eat other fish.
  • They can travel up to 200 miles to reach breeding grounds during the mating season.
  • Females can lay up to 5 million eggs, with most being eaten by other fish and sea creatures.
  • Humans are the cod’s only natural enemies or predators.
Codfishes floating in aquarium, Norway.

Codfish are carnivorous and eat other fish, including their own species.

©Travel Faery/

Scientific Name

The word “cod” refers to the genus Gadus, but specifically to members of the Atlantic cod or true cod family Gadidae as well as three related families in the order Gadiformes. Gadus includes eel, flatfish, ray, and pollock, and “cod” can mean Atlantic cod, Pacific cod, or any species of hake, pollock, haddock, and ling. However, some species belonging to the Gadus genus, such as the Alaska pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) are not known as cod.

Many fish species in the order Perciformes are also called “cod” although they are not true cods. These include blue cod (Parapercis colias), trout cod (Maccullochella macquariensis), and the notothens (cod icefishes) of the family Nototheniidae containing the Antarctic cod (Dissostichus mawsoni), black cod (Notothenia microlepidota) and Maori cod (Paranotothenia magellanica).

Coral cod, reef cod, and rock cod are also in the order Perciformes. Many species are groupers that are in the same order but in the family Serranidae and subfamily Epinephelinae. Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) and Whiting (Merlangius merlangus) both belong to the Gadidae family and are sometimes sold as cod.

Big codfish on a white background

“Codfish” refers to true cod, while “cod” can be the common name for both true cods and cod-like fish.


Types of Codfish

The species of codfish are:

  • Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua): This species is also called haberdine, codling, scrod cod, sacred cod, market, or steaker.
  • Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus): This cod is also known as greyfish, grey cod, grey wolf, Alaska cod, true cod, or Tara.
  • Alaska pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus): Closely related to Atlantic cod, this is not usually known by its alternative name of snow cod or bigeye cod but as walleye pollock.

Commonly called ogac, Greenland cod (Gadus ogac) is considered by some to be a different species but is thought by many to be synonymous with Pacific cod.

Codfishes in aquarium, Alesund, Norway.

There are three recognized species of cod.

©Travel Faery/

Evolution and Origins

A few million years ago, following their migration to the Pacific the ancestors of the Atlantic cod were responsible for the creation of the Pacific cod and Alaskan pollack. DNA sequencing of types of cod in the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific by scientists from the University of Iceland showed in 2019 that the evolutionary history of codfish could be seen as a connecting web rather than a traditional tree. The scientists found the Atlantic cod hybridized with species present in the Arctic to create the Alaskan pollack species, and the genes resulting from this crossbreeding enable the codfish to easily adapt to new habitats and become a dominant predator within an ecosystem.

Codfish has a long history as a worldwide commodity that can be traced back to Viking times around 800 AD. Norwegians developed the dried cod market in the south of Europe that lasted over 1,000 years, while the Portuguese started fishing cod in the 1400s and played a vital role in building cod markets. In the New World, particularly in North America in Massachusetts and Newfoundland, during the 1600s and 1700s cod was a big commodity and opened up trade networks. In the 1900s, Iceland re-established itself as a major player in the cod markets. In more recent years, fishing in Europe and America has led to a huge decline in cod stocks and become a political issue.

norse mythology

Codfish began to be used as a commodity around Viking times.



Codfish have three rounded dorsal and two anal fins. Their pelvic fins are fairly small, and with the first ray extended outward, they are set under the gill cover or better known as the throat area seen in front of the pectoral fins. The codfish has an upper jaw over its lower jaw, which has a beard-like barbel on its chin, which serves as a sensory organ for finding food.

Their eyes are mid-sized and are about the same length as their chin barbel. Codfish have a distinctive white lateral line that runs from their gill slit above their pectoral fin to the base of their tail fin that serves to detect motion, vibration, and pressure in the surrounding water.

Codfish’s backs tend to be green to sandy brown and may show signs of mottling. This can often be seen near the whiter sides and belly. On top of the cod, you can notice darker brown coloration. Colors may vary depending on where the codfish is from. Codfish have a generally green-brown color that can range from grey-green to red-brown, with a lighter underside and white underbelly.

They also have dark speckles on their sides. Finally, a structure in the skull called an otolith has visible rings, the number of which determines the cod’s age.

Pacific cod is smaller and darker than Atlantic cod, weighing up to 50 lbs (22.7 kg) with an average of 33 lbs (15 kg). True to its nickname of gray cod, it is brownish-gray in color. Atlantic cod can reach up to 220 lbs (100 kg) with an average of 212 lbs (96 kg) and has a silvery subcutaneous layer with a body that is yellow-green or red and olive in color.

Length-wise they can be anywhere from 77-200 cm (30-79 in) with an average of over a meter (51 in).

Atlantic Codfish, Gadus morhua, portrait, close up

Atlantic cod can grow up to 220 lbs.

©Miroslav Halama/


The Atlantic cod lives in the deep, cold waters of the North Atlantic. Pacific cod lives in both the eastern and western areas of the northern Pacific, including Alaskan and Russian waters. Both can be found at a depth range of 20-200 ft, with the Pacific cod at 900 m (3,000 ft). As groundfish, they live and feed on the seafloor.

Atlantic codfish (Gadus morhua)

Codfish can be found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

©Vladimir Wrangel/


Codfish are carnivorous and eat a variety of animals such as smaller fish (prey fish or baitfish), crustaceans, and invertebrates. Their diet includes crabs, haddock, lobsters, mackerel, mollusks, mussels, sand eels, squid, whiting, and worms. They can be cannibalistic, as adults may prey on young codfish.

Rock Lobster

Codfish eat a range of animals including lobster.


Predators and Threats

Humans are the only natural predator of codfish, which are apex predators. Juvenile codfish may also become prey to adult codfish.

Fisherman on boat with codfish

The only threat to codfish is humans.

©Anton Petrus/

Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

The life cycle of codfish starts with spawning. Codfish are slow swimmers but can travel up to 200 miles to breeding grounds during mating season. They can reproduce all year but migrate to warmer waters during spring and winter. Spawning occurs from January to April, with March and April being peak months. Their depth range during this time is 660 ft. As part of courtship, male codfish display their fins and grunt.

Females can lay up to 500 million eggs. After they lay the eggs in batches, males compete to fertilize them. The eggs are vulnerable to the elements and most get eaten by other fish and sea creatures. The remaining hatch in 8-23 days, with larvae being transparent in appearance and only 0.16 in in length.

Their size increases 40 times after 10 weeks as they eat phytoplankton and zooplankton, later consuming small crustaceans. At 6 months they reach 3.1 in (8 cm) in length. They become sexually mature between 2 to 4 years when they reach a length of 20 in (50 cm).

The life cycle of codfish follows egg to larvae to juvenile to adult stages. Larvae are called fry, while young codfish are called codlings. Differences in the amount of time it takes for juveniles to mature sexually does not change the basic life cycle. For example, cod in the northeast Arctic can take up to 8 years to fully mature.

Adult codfish can live 13 years or more in the wild depending on the species. Atlantic codfish, for example, live 25 years in the wild, while Pacific cod generally lives 20 years.

Juvenile Codfish on reef wall

Young codfish are called codlings.

©valda butterworth/

Population and Conservation

There are several different stocks of each species that are researched for biomass or the number of reproducing females. Pacific cod is not subject to overfishing. However, due to overfishing in the late 20 century, the Atlantic cod is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN with a significantly decreased population.

The rebuilding plan to reach target population levels includes regulations and limited fishing status. Fishing for Pacific cod is also regulated with quotas for fishing traps.


The IUCN classifies Atlantic cod as Vulnerable.

©Tobias Arhelger/

Codfish in Fishing and Cooking

Codfish that has been dried without salt is called stockfish. The more popular method of preservation, dried and salted cod, is known as salt cod, saltfish, cured salt cod, or clip fish. It is made by drying after salting, also known as salt-curing, making it suitable for long-term storage, year-round export, and incorporation into a variety of dishes.

The creation of saltfish has made cod one of the most plentiful, lucrative, and important fish in European fisheries.

Saltfish is a specialty and a unique basis for many codfish recipes around the world. As a major export of the North Atlantic region, it is an ingredient in many Atlantic and Mediterranean cuisines, such as Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. For example, there are several variations of codfish stew and fried cod fritters (also called saltfish fritters or salted codfish cakes) that call specifically for salted codfish.

There are also many dishes that use regular cod. Fish and chips is a popular example that originated in England. While codfish is still the top choice, many vendors replace it with rock salmon or white fish such as halibut, haddock, or plaice.

Baked cod, pan-seared cod, fish tacos, fish sticks, fish chowder, cod stew, and cod soup are other examples of dishes that use regular cod. The dense, white, flaky, and mild-tasting flesh of codfish is extremely versatile and fairly interchangeable with other whitefish.

Fish sticks

Fish sticks are a popular way to eat cod.

© Banaszuk

In terms of nutrition, codfish is the fish with the highest amount of protein per calorie, whether it is Atlantic or Pacific cod. Both also provide significant amounts of B vitamins, phosphorus, and selenium. Codfish is so well-known for nutrition that a popular old family remedy is the use of cod liver oil to treat wounds, arthritis, depression, and rickets.

The oil is processed from cod livers from both species and contains highly concentrated amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) and vitamins A, D, and E.

Flavor-wise, there are small differences between the two species. Pacific cod has firm, chunky flakes with a milder and more savory flavor. Atlantic cod has bigger, sweeter, firmer, and “flakier” flakes, less moisture content, and a larger market size.

While people in the United States are used to Pacific cod and Alaska pollock, people in the U.K. enjoy Atlantic cod, which they refer to as “scrod” when under 2.5 lbs.

Fresh baked fish

The dense, white, flaky, and mild-tasting codfish is extremely versatile.


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About the Author

Catherine Gin has more than 15 years of experience working as an editor for digital, print and social media. She grew up in Australia with an alphabet of interesting animals, from echidnas and funnel-web spiders to kookaburras and quokkas, as well as beautiful native plants including bottlebrushes and gum trees. Being based in the U.S. for a decade has expanded Catherine's knowledge of flora and fauna, and she and her husband hope to have a hobby farm and vegetable garden in future.

Codfish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do codfish eat?

Codfish eat smaller fish, crustaceans, worms, and invertebrates.

Where are codfish found?

Codfish live in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

What is a codfish?

A codfish is a type of predatory saltwater fish in the genus Gadus.

Is codfish the same as cod?

Yes, codfish and cod are used interchangeably. However, “codfish” refers to true cod, while “cod” can be the common name for both true cods and cod-like fish.

What is the difference of Atlantic cod vs. Pacific cod?

Atlantic cod and Pacific cod are two closely related species of codfish differing in appearance, nutrition, and habitat regions.

What is the difference between haddock vs. cod?

Cod is in the same family as haddock which is Gadidae, the Atlantic cod or true cod family. Haddock is sometimes marketed as cod. Both are cold saltwater fish but are different in the appearance of their body size and shape, body-color, front dorsal fin, and lateral line. They also taste different, with cod having a mild, clean taste and thicker, firmer fillets that are great for grilling and searing, while haddock has a fishy flavor with thinner and more fragile fillets that are best for frying.

What is the lifespan of a codfish?

Codfish live for 15 to 25 years.

How many species of codfish are there?

There are three species of codfish: Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus), and Greenland cod (Gadus ogac).

What is a distinguishing feature of the codfish?

The codfish has a beard-like barbel on its chin, which serves as a sensory organ for finding food.

What is another name for the codfish?

The codfish is also called cod or codling.

How many codfish are left in the world?

The population size of the codfish is unknown.

What is an interesting fact about the codfish?

Codfish eat other fish and are cannibalistic, with adult codfish preying upon juveniles.

How do codfish have babies?

Codfish lay eggs.

What is the difference between a salmon and a cod?

The key differences between salmon and cod include their size, fillet colors, and texture of their fillets. Cod are larger than salmon, weighing up to 10 times as much as them and growing far longer than them in the wild.

What is the difference between codfish and flounder?

The main differences between cod and flounder are their size, appearance, hunting methods, and reproduction strategy.

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