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.

The first Europeans arrived in Newfoundland waters in the late fifteenth century on the hunt for cod. It was an economic venture that in turn spawned one of the first permanent British settlements in North America. Cod fishing soon developed into the economic mainstay for Newfoundland and Labrador during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Large-scale commercial fishing began in the early twentieth century, with heavy exploitation occurring in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, particularly due to foreign fishing. 

In 1977, the Canadian marine jurisdiction of 200 nautical miles was introduced. From this point on, Canada had exclusive control over its coastal waters but overexploitation continued to occur by the Canadian fishing industry. By this point, the cod in Canadian waters had been exploited so intensely that populations began to decline, with fisheries catches continually dropping until a moratorium was placed on cod fishing in the early 1990s. 

The loss of cod in Canada was the biggest fisheries collapse the world has ever seen. 

Atlantic Canadian cod is not a sustainable seafood option according to most certifications, with handline-caught being the exception. Cod off of southern Newfoundland in NAFO division 3Ps is one population that has seen early signs of recovery and, as of 2016, this fishery is MSC certified.