The Atlantic cod has historically been one of the world’s important natural resources, and the waters of the North Atlantic once teemed with this fish. Today, the commercial catch of cod is far below historic levels, and cod are generally in a collapsed or near-collapsed condition.
IdentificationThe Atlantic cod has three dark dorsal ﬁns and two dark anal ﬁns, none of which contain any spines. The body is heavy and tapered, with a prominent chin barbel, a large mouth, and many small teeth. Its snout is rounded on top, and the tail is almost squared. There is a characteristic pale lateral line. The coloring is highly variable on the back and the sides (ranging from brownish or sandy to gray, yellow, reddish, greenish, or any combination of these colors), gray-white on the underside, and with numerous light spots covering the body.
Size/AgeYoung ﬁsh ages 2 to 5 generally constitute the bulk of the cod catch, with the average size being from 4 to 15 pounds. Larger sizes in New England are not unusual, some with a length of 30 to 40 inches. When they were more abundant, cod were caught in the 55- to 75-pound range and have been known to reach 211 pounds. The all-tackle fishing record is 98 pounds, 12 ounces. Atlantic cod can live up to 22 years.
Spawning behaviorThe spawning season is during December and January off the Mid-Atlantic Bight and from February through April farther north.
Food and feeding habitsOmnivorous feeders, cod are primarily active at dawn and dusk. Their primary diet is invertebrates and assorted ﬁsh. Very young cod feed on copepods and other small crustaceans while at the surface and, after dropping to the bottom, on small worms or shrimp.
Other Namescod, codﬁsh, codling, scrod; French: morue de l’Atlantique; German: dorsch, kabeljau; Italian: merluzzo bianco; Japanese: madara, tara; Norwegian: torsk; Portuguese: bacalhau; Spanish: bacalao del Atlántique.