Atlantic Cod | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Atlantic Cod

Gadus morhua

Also known as

Cod, codling, codfish, bank cod, scrod, northern cod


Temperate to sub-polar waters on the continental shelf in the North Atlantic


Heterogeneous habitats

Feeding Habits

Active predator

Conservation Status



Order Gadiformes (cods and relatives), Family Gadidae (true cods)


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Cod is an iconic species that has played an important role throughout Canada’s history. It used to be the country’s largest—and arguably the most important—fishery. Cod was so significant to the economy of Atlantic Canada that it was called “Newfoundland currency.” From the time the New World was discovered up until the cod collapse in the 1990s, this fish was the dominant commercial species of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. Today, populations in certain areas, notably the northern cod found off the southern coast of Labrador and the northeastern coast of Newfoundland, are beginning to show early signs of a comeback.

Cod typically grow to be around 100 centimetres long, reaching sexual maturity at lengths from 35-85 centimetres, or around three to seven years (depending on the region and water temperatures). Cod spawn in the winter and early spring for three to six weeks near the ocean floor, with a single female producing between 300,000-500,000 eggs at maturity, with up to nine million eggs for large females. 

During the larval stage, the larvae live in the upper water column feeding on plankton, then settle to the ocean floor in complex, coastal habitats (such as eelgrass beds) for their first one to four years of life as juveniles. These juveniles tend to feed on small crustaceans, such as mysid shrimp and krill, but as they mature, feed on larger and larger prey, like squid, bivalves and fish, including other, smaller cod. After maturation, they begin to exhibit off-season movements and seasonal migrations typical of adult cod. At this stage they are considered top predators in the bottom ocean community, feeding on a variety of invertebrates and fish, and only being preyed on by sharks, seals and humans.