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What is a Pacific Cod?

By Angie Bates
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The Pacific cod is a type of marine fish found in the Pacific ocean from Japan to northern California. This cod is extremely important in the commercial fishing industry, specifically in Alaska. The scientific name of the Pacific cod is Gadus macrocephalus.

Also called the Alaska cod, the gray cod, and the true cod, the Pacific cod has a long body with three dorsal and two anal fins, and a square caudal fin, or tail. These fish have brown or gray backs and light bellies. Brown or pale spots dot their skin, and their fins are often edged in white. Although the longest Pacific cod recorded was 37.4 inches (95 cm), they average 24 inches (61 cm). In northern waters, these fish grow slower, reach larger sizes, and live longer than their southern counterparts.

Usually found at depths of 164–984 feet (50–300 m), the Pacific cod is a coastal fish, living on slopes and shelf edges in the winter and coming into shallower water in the summer. They have been found in water as deep as 2,812 feet (857 m) and as shallow as 33 feet (10 m). As a ground fish, this cod stays near the floor of its habitat. It preys on worms, crustaceans, and young fish, and is preyed on by sharks, seals, and halibut.

The Pacific cod is oviparous, meaning it reproduces by laying eggs. Anytime from January through April, the female cod will lay 225,000–5 million eggs over the course of a few minutes. Eggs are laid in 131–394 feet (40–120 m) deep water. Once the eggs are laid, the male then fertilizes them.

Approximately 28 days later, larvae hatch from the eggs. Larvae are only 0.1–0.15 inches (3–4 mm) long and still have a yolk sac attached to them. The yolk sac is absorbed about ten days after hatching. Juvenile fish live in kelp beds until they reach about 3 inches (8 cm) long.

The Pacific cod is extremely important in the commercial fishing industry, particularly in Alaska. At 13.2 percent of Alaska's total groundfish catch in 2008, it was one of the most abundant fish caught by Alaskan commercial fisherman, second only to the Pollock, which makes up more than half of Alaska's groundfish catches. This cod is sold fresh and frozen, as well as in fish stick form.

Not yet over-fished, the Pacific cod is managed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. This council helps to ensure this cod remains abundant in the wild. Because of its healthy population, and its tendency to be caught by line or pot-caught, the Pacific cod is often considered an ocean friendly replacement for the Atlantic cod.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Pacific Cod?

Pacific Cod (Gadus macrocephalus) is a species of marine fish known for its flaky, white flesh and mild flavor. It thrives in the cold waters of the North Pacific Ocean, from California to Alaska, and across to Russia and Japan. This bottom-dwelling fish plays a significant role in commercial fisheries due to its high demand in the culinary world.

How can you identify a Pacific Cod?

A Pacific Cod can be identified by its distinctive brown or grayish-green coloration with dark spots or patterns on its body. It has a prominent lateral line, a barbel on its chin, and three dorsal fins. Adult Pacific Cod typically range from 1.5 to 3 feet in length, making them a sizable catch for fishermen.

What is the habitat of the Pacific Cod?

The Pacific Cod is commonly found in the benthic zone of the North Pacific Ocean, preferring sandy or muddy bottoms at depths ranging from shallow waters to 900 meters. They are adaptable and can inhabit waters with temperatures between -1 and 14 degrees Celsius, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

What is the diet of the Pacific Cod?

Pacific Cod are opportunistic feeders with a varied diet that includes smaller fish, crustaceans, and marine invertebrates. Their predatory nature is facilitated by their sharp teeth and ability to camouflage with the ocean floor, allowing them to ambush prey effectively.

How important is the Pacific Cod to commercial fishing?

The Pacific Cod is a cornerstone species in commercial fishing, particularly in the North Pacific region. It is one of the most valuable fishery commodities, with the United States and Russia being major harvesters. The fish is processed into various products, including fresh fillets, frozen blocks, and fish sticks, supporting a multimillion-dollar industry.

Are Pacific Cod populations at risk?

While Pacific Cod populations have experienced fluctuations due to environmental factors like temperature changes, they are not currently listed as endangered. Fisheries management practices, including quotas and seasonal closures, help maintain sustainable population levels. However, ongoing monitoring is essential to ensure the species' long-term viability in the face of climate change and overfishing pressures.

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