Minimum Fish Landing Sizes
Legislation, Byelaws & Recommendations

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On 12th February 1990 the National Federation of Sea Anglers issued the following minimum size of fish schedule [3]:

Species Length (cm)
Bass 40
Black Bream 23
Coal Fish 35
Cod 35
Conger Eel 70
Dab 23
Flounder 25
Mullet 33
Plaice 27
Pollock 30
Sole 24
Whiting 27

[3] Editor's note: see Deal and Walmer Angling Association: A History from 1904 to 2002 by Marcel Baut at page 624

The NFSA's final minimum sizes, issued circa 2008, are (were) as follows:

Species Shore (cm) Shore (in)
Bass 41 16
Bream, Red 25 10
Bream, Black 24
Brill 35 14
Bull Huss 58 23
Coal Fish 35 14
Cod 35 14
Conger eel 91 36
Dab 20 8
Dogfish 38 15
Flounder 27 10
Garfish 38 15
Gurnard, Tub 28 11
Haddock 35 14
Hake 30 12
John Dory 33 13
Ling 72 28
Mackerel 30 12
Megrim 25 10
Mullet 33 13
Plaice 28 11
Pollack 30 12
Pouting 18 7
Poor Cod 18 7
Rockling 18 7
Scad 25 10
Silver eel 38 15
Skate & Ray 41 16
Smooth-hound 51 20
Sole 25 10
Spurdog 58 23
Trigger Fish 30 12
Turbot 41 16
Whiting 27 10½
Witch 28 11
Wrasse, Ballan 23 9
Unclassified 20 8
Weevers 20 8
By Weight kg lb
Halibut 3
Monkfish 7 15½
Shark 18 40
Tope 9 20

The National Federation of Sea Anglers and the Angling Trust

The National Federation of Sea Anglers (NFSA) held an EGM at Buckfastleigh in Devon on Saturday, 6th December 2008 at which the membership approved proposals to allow the winding up of the NFSA and the transfer of its assets to the Angling Trust.

Richard Ferré, Chairman of the NFSA said:

"The NFSA is proud to be a part of the formation of the Angling Trust. Sea anglers share an interest in many issues with their freshwater counterparts and we will be much stronger if we pool our resources. The new Angling Trust will build on the work we have undertaken for many years, lobbying for greater protection for marine fish stocks and running national and international competitions on and off shore."

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of Angling Trust commented:

"The Angling Trust will not only continue the work of all these bodies, but it will also do much more. We will now be able to represent all anglers much more efficiently and effectively. All the staff of the organisations involved are working flat out to make sure that everything is in place for the launch in January. We all hope that every angler's New Year resolution will be to join the Angling Trust."

The Angling Trust's interpretation of the current Minimum Landing Sizes set by the EU ("EUMLS") is that they only apply to motorised vessels holding a commercial fishing licence and not to recreational catches. However, the Angling Trust encourages all anglers to apply voluntary minimum retention sizes which exceed the EUMLS and allow all fish retained the chance to have bred at least once.

The EUMLS are set out in Annex XII of Regulation 850/98 (Table 5). For both finfish and shellfish undersized animals are not to be retained on board, transhipped, landed, transported, stored, sold, displayed or offered for sale. Undersized animals must be returned immediately to the sea.

The Angling Trust Recommended Retention Sizes differ to those of the NFSA as follows:

Species Shore (cm) Shore (in)
Bass 45 17¾
Bream, Gilthead 24
Dab 23 9
Gurnard, Grey 28 11
Gurnard, Red 28 11
Haddock 30 11¾
Herring 20 8
Horse Mackerel 25
John Dory 25
Mullet, Red 15 6
Ray (all) 45 17¾
Shad (see note 2)
Spurdog (see note 3)
Turbot 35
By Weight kg lb
Angler Fish 7 15½
Monkfish (see note 1)


  1. Angel sharks (Monkfish) are listed under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and protected against killing, injuring or taking under section 9(1) on land and up to 3 nautical miles from the English coast.
  2. Allis and Twaite Shad are protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and EU legislation (Berne Convention) and all fish must be returned.
  3. Undulate ray, porbeagle and spurdog are classified as endangered and the Angling Trust recommends that all such fish are returned alive.
  4. An Environment Agency byelaw prevents anglers from retaining the European eel (Anguilla anguilla). However, they can be retained for weighing or measuring but must be returned alive to the water they were taken from on completion of fishing. The Angling Trust policy on retaining the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is as follows:

Angling Trust Recommended Retention Sizes For Sea Angling Matches and Competitions

The following recommended retention sizes have been set at, or above, the highest regional minimum size set by any one of the Inshore Fishery and Conservation Authorities ("IFCA"). Following these recommendations will ensure that anglers and clubs are not in contravention of any local bye laws set by IFCA.

Species (common name) Species Recommended Retention Size
(Metric) kg & cm
Recommended Retention Size
(Imperial) lb & in
Anglerfish Lophius piscatorius 7kg 15lb 7oz
Bass Dicentrarchus labrax 45cm 17¾in
Bream, Black Spondyliosoma cantharus 24cm 9½in
Bream, Gilthead Sparus aurata 24cm 9½in
Brill Scophthalmus rhombus 35cm 13¾in
Coalfish Pollachius virens 35cm 13¾in
Cod Gadus morhua 35cm 13¾in
Common skate Dipturus batis 45cm 17¾in
Conger eel Conger conger Boat (120cm)
Shore (91cm)
Boat (47¼in)
Shore (35¾in)
Dab Limanda limanda 23cm 9in
European Eel Anguila anguila None (see note 1)
Flounder Platichthys flesus 27cm 10⅔in
Garfish Belone belone 38cm 15in
Gurnard, Grey Eutrigla gurnardus 28cm 11in
Gurnard, Red Chelidonichthys cuculus 28cm 11in
Gurnard, Tub Chelidonichthys lucerna 28cm 11in
Haddock Melanogrammus aeglefinus Boat (35cm)
Shore (30cm)
Boat (13¾in)
Shore (11¾in)
Halibut Hippoglossus hippoglossus Boat (10kg)
Shore (3kg)
Boat (22lb ¾oz)
Shore (6lb 9¾oz)
Herring Clupea harengus 20cm 8in
Horse mackerel Trachurus trachurus 25cm 9¾in
John Dory Zeus faber Boat (33cm)
Shore (25cm)
Boat (13in)
Shore (9¾in)
Lesser Spotted Dogfish Scyliorhinus canicula Boat (46cm)
Shore (38cm)
Boat (18in)
Shore (15in)
Ling Molva molva 72cm 28⅓in
Mackerel Scomber scombrus 30cm 11¾in
Megrim Lepidorhombus whiffiagonis 25cm 9¾in
Monkfish (Angel Shark) Squatina squatina (see note 4)
Mullet, Grey (thick-lipped) Chelon labrosus 33cm 13in
Mullet, Grey (thin-lipped) Liza ramada 33cm 13in
Mullet, Golden Grey Liza aurata 33cm 13in
Mullet, Red Mullus surmuletus 15cm 6in
Plaice Pleuronectes platessa 28cm 11in
Pollack Pollachius pollachius 30cm 11¾in
Poor Cod Trisopterus minutus 18cm 7in
Pouting Trisopterus luscus Boat (25cm)
Shore (18cm)
Boat (9¾in)
Shore (7in)
Ray, Blonde Raja brachyuran 45cm 17¾in
Ray, Cuckoo Raja naevus 45cm 17¾in
Ray, Small-eyed Raja microocellata 45cm 17¾in
Ray, Spotted Raja montagui 45cm 17¾in
Ray, Starry Amblyraja radiata 45cm 17¾in
Ray, Stingray Dasyatis pastinaca 45cm 17¾in
Ray, Thornback Raja clavata 45cm 17¾in
Ray, Undulate Raja undulate (see note 2)
Rockling, Five-bearded Ciliata mustela 18cm 7in
Rockling, Shore Gaidropsarus mediterraneus 18cm 7in
Rockling, Three-bearded Gaidropsarus vulgaris 18cm 7in
Shad, Allis Alosa alosa (see note 3)
Shad, Twaite Alosa fallax (see note 3)
Shark, Angel Squatina squatina (see note 4)
Shark, Blue Prionace glauca Boat (23kg)
Shore (18kg)
Boat (50lb 11⅓oz)
Shore (39lb 11oz)
Shark, Bull Huss Scyliorhinus stellaris 58cm 22¾in
Shark, Mako Isurus oxyrinchus Boat (23kg)
Shore (18kg)
Boat (50lb 11⅓oz)
Shore (39lb 11oz)
Shark, Porbeagle Lamna nasus (see note 5)
Shark, Smoothhound Mustelus asterias 51cm 20in
Shark, Spurdog Squalus acanthias (see note 6)
Shark, Thresher Alopias vulpinus Boat (23kg)
Shore (18kg)
Boat (50lb 11⅓oz)
Shore (39lb 11oz)
Shark, Tope Galeorhinus galeus (see note 7)
Sole, Dover Solea solea 25cm 9¾in
Sole, Lemon Microstomus kitt 25cm 9¾in
Trigger fish Balistes capriscus 30cm 11¾in
Turbot Scophthalmus maximus Boat (41cm)
Shore (35cm)
Boat (16in)
Shore (13¾in)
Whiting Merlangius merlangus 27cm 10⅔in
Witch Glyptocephalus cynoglossus 28cm 11in
Wrasse, Ballan Labrus bergylta 23cm 9in
  1. An Environment Agency byelaw prevents anglers from retaining the European eel (Anguilla anguilla). However, they can be retained for weighing or measuring but must be returned alive to the water they were taken from on completion of fishing.
  2. Undulate ray are classified as endangered. The Angling Trust recommends that all fish are returned alive.
  3. Shad are now protected under the EU (Berne Convention) and all fish must be returned alive.
  4. Angel sharks (Monkfish) are listed under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and will be protected against killing, injuring or taking by section 9(1) on land and up to 3 nautical miles from English coastal baselines.
  5. Porbeagle are critically endangered in the north-east Atlantic. The Angling Trust recommends that all fish are returned alive.
  6. Spurdog are classified as critically endangered in the north-east Atlantic and The Angling Trust recommends that all fish are returned alive.
  7. Anglers should be aware that there is a national restriction on landing tope caught from a boat, which includes kayaks, by rod and line. Any boat-caught tope are legally required to be released as soon as possible after capture.
  8. Should there be any dispute on the measurement of a fish the Match Organisers Master Measure will be the deciding measure. All fish are to be measured from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail fin, except Skates and Rays which are to be measured wing tip to wing tip. All sizes are in centimetres or kilograms where indicated.
  9. Clubs operating catch and release matches may, of course, set size limits below these recommendations and include species which we recommend be returned. In such circumstances it is the individual anglers responsibility to ensure that fish are returned alive to the water from which they were taken.
  10. The information above was correct at the time of publishing and should be used as guidance only. The Angling Trust accepts no responsibility for changes to its accuracy by 3rd parties. We recommend that anglers and clubs check with their local IFCA for any changes to the information provided above.

Angling Trust: January 2013

Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes, Minimum Landing Sizes and the EU Common Fisheries Policy

Minimum Landing Sizes ("MLS") are used all over the World and are just one of a number of tools used to manage fish stocks. However, as a common sense approach to conservation and an easy concept to understand (protecting immature fish) they have been adopted by responsible recreational anglers with an interest in conservation and sustainable management of fish stocks.

As part of the latest reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy an obligation by commercial fishermen to land all catches was introduced (commonly known as the discards ban). As a result the EUMLS could no longer apply and were replaced by "Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes" ("MCRS"). Fish below the new MCRS must be landed but the fish cannot be sold at market for human consumption, thereby creating a market force which is intended to discourage fishermen from catching smaller, immature fish which must be landed but have very little market value. However, there must also be an incentive to land these fish, if caught, to comply with the landings obligation and not to continue to discard dead fish at sea. Therefore a very fine balance must be struck by the EU which discourages immature fish from being targeted while simultaneously encourages fishermen to land them by providing a limited financial reward.

The obligation to land all fish caught only applies to species for which there is a quota or a Total Allowable Catch ("TAC"), apart from in the Mediterranean where all non-TAC species must be landed. For other species it is up to each member state within the EU to decide whether or not to maintain minimum landing sizes or include them in the landings obligation at a national level and introduce a minimum conservation reference size.

It is expected that the current EUMLS will be transposed into the new MCRS. However, the EUMLS were said to be "technical measures for the protection of juvenile fish" yet

The lifecycles of some species, and the fishing methods used, mean that MLS alone are rarely enough to secure good fish stock management. More is needed and in most cases of successful fisheries management (including the restoration of depleted stocks) where EUMLS play a key rôle, other technical measures are used as well e.g. minimum mesh sizes for nets to avoid by-catches of small, immature fish.

The Angling Trust interprets the current EUMLS as

However, a number of EU member states rigorously apply the EUMLS to both commercial and recreational fishing and some member states have even set MLS for recreational fishing which exceed the EUMLS, while requiring commercial fisheries to follow the EUMLS e.g. the French bass fisheries.

The Angling Trust encourages all anglers to Give Fish A Chance and apply voluntary minimum retention sizes which exceed the EUMLS thereby ensuring that all fish retained have had an opportunity of breeding at least once.

If an IFCA has not set its own MLS or MCRS (see IFCA "Finfish" table below) the following EUMLS apply to a limited number of species caught in UK waters. For many species no EUMLS or MCRS have been prescribed.

With conservation in mind, the Angling Trust has prescribed approximate sizes of sexual maturity for females of all species using the best available evidence to support such sizes. Where a size range is given the Angling Trust has prescribed the upper limit of that range. These are not recommended retention size limits but anglers retaining fish above these sizes can be reasonably confident that these fish will have had an opportunity of breeding at least once.

Species EUMLS Size of Sexual Maturity
Bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) 42cm 46cm
Bream - Black (Spondyliosoma cantharus) None 20cm
Bream - Gilthead (Sparus aurata) None Unknown
Brill (Scophthalmus rhombus) None 41cm
Coalfish (Pollachius virens) 35cm (see note 1) 70cm
Cod (Gadus morhua) 35cm (see note 1) 60cm
Common skate (Dipturus batis) None 180cm
Conger eel (Conger conger) None Unknown
Dab (Limanda limanda) None 25cm
European Eel (Anguila anguila) None (See note 2) Unknown
Flounder (Platichthys flesus) None 30cm
Garfish (Belone belone) None 45cm
Gurnard, Grey (Eutrigla gurnardus) None 25cm
Gurnard, Red (Chelidonichthys cuculus) None 25cm
Gurnard, Tub (Chelidonichthys lucerna) None Unknown
Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) 30cm (see note 1) 40cm
Halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) None 135cm
Herring (Clupea harengus) 20cm 3-9 years
Horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus) 15cm 30cm
John Dory (Zeus faber) None 35cm
Lesser Spotted Dogfish (Scyliorhinus canicula) None 60cm
Ling (Molva molva) 63cm (see note 1) 100cm
Mackerel (Scomber scombrus) 20cm (30cm North Sea) 34cm
Megrim (Lepidorhombus whiffiagonis) 20cm 25cm
Anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) None 70cm
Mullet, Grey, thick-lipped (Chelon labrosus) 30cm 47cm
Mullet, Grey, thin-lipped (Liza ramada) 30cm 47cm
Mullet, Golden Grey (Liza aurata) None 30cm
Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) 27cm 35cm
Pollack (Pollachius pollachius) 30cm (see note 1) 50cm
Poor Cod (Trisopterus minutus) None Unknown
Pouting (Trisopterus luscus) None 25cm
Ray, Blonde (Raja brachyuran) 40cm 57cm
Ray, Cuckoo (Raja naevus) 40cm 59cm
Ray, Small-eyed (Raja microocellata) 40cm Unknown
Ray, Spotted (Raja montagui) 40cm Unknown
Ray, Starry (Amblyraja radiata) 40cm 40cm
Ray, Stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca) 40cm Unknown
Ray, Thornback (Raja clavata) 40cm 85cm
Ray, Undulate (Raja undulate) (see note 3) 60cm
Rockling, Five Bearded (Ciliata mustela) None Unknown
Rockling, Shore (Gaidropsarus mediterraneus) None Unknown
Rockling, Three-bearded (Gaidropsarus vulgaris) None Unknown
Shad, Allis (Alosa alosa) None (see note 4)
Shad, Twait (Alosa fallax) None (see note 4)
Monkfish aka Angel Shark (Squatina squatina) None 169cm (see note 5)
Shark, Blue (Prionace glauca) None 220cm
Shark, Bull Huss (Scyliorhinus stellaris) None Unknown
Shark, Mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) None 285cm
Shark, Porbeagle (Lamna nasus) None (see note 6) 220cm
Shark, Smoothhound (Mustelus asterias) None 85cm
Shark, Spurdog (Squalus acanthias) None (see note 7) 80cm
Shark, Thresher (Alopias vulpinus) None 260 - 465cm
Shark, Tope (Galeorhinus galeus) None (see note 8) Unknown
Sole, Dover (Solea solea) 24cm 35cm
Sole, Lemon (Microstomus kitt) None 30cm
Trigger fish (Balistes capriscus) None Unknown
Turbot (Scophthalmus maximus) None 46cm
Tuna, Bluefin (Tunnus tunnus) 30kg/115cm (excluding trolling and bait boats) (see note 9)
Whiting (Merlangius merlangus) 27cm 30cm
Witch (Glyptocephalus cynoglossus) None Unknown
Wrasse, Ballan (Labrus bergylta) None Unknown
Wrasse, Cuckoo (Labrus mixtus) Unknown Unknown
  1. The size of sexual maturity for species from the Gadidae family including cod, whiting, haddock, pollack and coalfish (saithe) can vary wildly depending on a number of factors. The figures quoted represent the size at which 50% of fish of these species have reached sexual maturity.
  2. An Environment Agency byelaw prevents anglers from retaining the European eel (Anguilla anguilla). However, they can be retained for weighing or measuring but must be returned alive to the water they were taken from on completion of fishing. For the Angling Trust's policy on retaining European eels click here.
  3. Undulate rays are classified as endangered and, for that reason, the Angling Trust recommends that all undulate rays are returned alive.
  4. Shad are now protected under the EU Berne Convention and all fish must be returned.
  5. Monkfish (aka angel shark) are listed under UK Wildlife and Countryside Act and are protected against death, injury or taking (section 9(1)) on land and up to 3 nautical miles from the English coastal baselines. These are not to be confused with the unprotected Anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) whose tails are marketed as monkfish.
  6. Porbeagle are critically endangered in the north-east Atlantic. The Angling Trust recommends that all porbeagles are returned alive.
  7. Spurdog are classified as critically endangered in the north-east Atlantic. The Angling Trust recommends that all spurdogs are returned alive.
  8. Anglers should be aware that there is a national restriction on landing tope caught from a boat, which includes kayaks, by rod and line. Any boat-caught tope are legally required to be released as soon as possible after capture. Details of the Tope (Prohibition of Fishing Order) 2008 can be found here.
  9. In order for bluefin tuna to be caught directly, each Member State must apply for a quota and then apply a second specific quota for recreational fishing purposes. The UK does not currently have a quota for the direct commercial or recreational fishing of bluefin tuna. Therefore, direct fishing for bluefin tuna is not allowed in the UK under current regulations. Article 12.5 of Regulation 302/2009 states that "Each Member State shall take the necessary measures to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, the release of bluefin tuna caught alive, especially juveniles, in the framework of recreational fishing". Therefore, recreational sea anglers are obliged to do everything they can to ensure any bluefin tuna by-catch is returned to the sea alive.

Inshore Fishery and Conservation Authorities

In England the Inshore Fishery and Conservation Authorities ("IFCA") have considerable responsibility for managing fish stocks out to six miles from the shore. While IFCA still have to adhere to the rules laid down by the EU Common Fisheries Policy they are able, through bylaws, to set MLS which exceed the EUMLS and apply to all fish retained, including those caught be recreational anglers.

The Kent & Essex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority requires all fish below the following sizes to be returned immediately to the sea: Council Regulation (EEC) 850/98 (Kent and Essex Sea Fisheries Committee Byelaws)

Species Size (cm) Size (in)
Anchovy 12
Bass 42 14¼
Cod 35 14
Grey Mullet 30 12
Haddock 30 12
Hake 27 10¾
Herring 20 8
Ling 63 24¾
Ling (Blue) 70 27½
Mackerel (Horse) 15 6
Mackerel (North Sea) 30 12
Mackerel (Other Areas) 20 8
Megrim 20 8
Plaice 27 10¾
Pollack 30 12
Saith 35 13¾
Sardine 11
Sole 24
Skates & Rays
(wingtip to wingtip)
40 15¾
Skates & Rays
(detached wings)
Swordfish 125/25kg 49¼/55lb
Tuna (Bluefin) 6.4kg 14lb 1¾oz
Whiting 27 10¾

Kent and Essex Sea Fisheries Committee Byelaws

Minimum legal sizes: ALL FISH BELOW THESE SIZES MUST BE RETURNED IMMEDIATELY TO THE SEA: Council Regulation (EEC) 850/98, Statutory Instruments. Unless specified all measurements apply to the dimension of length.

Finfish Minimum Landing Size (cm) Average Breeding Size (cm)
Bass Do Not Keep 46
Cod 35 60
Haddock 30 40
Herring 20  
Horse Mackerel 15 30
Mackerel (North Sea) 30 34
Mackerel (Other Areas) 20 34
Sole 24 35
Plaice 27 35
Whiting 27 30
Grey Mullet 30 47
Skates & Rays
(wing tip to wing tip)
40 41
Skates & Rays
(detached wings)
19 N/A
Eel Do Not Keep  
Tope Do Not Keep  

Historical references to statutory protection in the UK

"The Art of Angling, Rock and Sea Fishing: with the Natural History of River, Pond and Sea Fish" (1740) Richard Brookes at page 249

Necessary Cautions

Those that sell, offer or expose to sale, or exchange for any other goods Bret or Turbot under sixteen inches long, Brill or Pearl under fourteen, Codlin twelve, Whiting six, Bass and Mullet twelve; Sole, Plaice and Dab, eight, and Flounder seven from the eyes to the utmost extent of the tail, are liable to forfeit twenty shilings by distress, or to be sent to hard labour for not less than six, or more than fourteen days, and to be whip'd.

Those who unlawfully break down fish-ponds, or fish therein without the owner's licence, are liable to three months imprisonment, to pay treble damages to the party aggrieved, and to be bound to good behaviour for seven years.

Every one who between the first of March and the last of May shall do any act whereby the spawn of fish shall be destroy'd, shall forfeit forty shillings and the instrument.

"Sea Angling Modern Methods and Tackle" (1952) Alan Young at pages 149 & 150

Sea Angler's Encyclopaedia

Size Limits

On 1st August, 1948, the Sea Fishing Industry (Immature Sea Fish) Order came into force. This lays down that the landing and sale of fish of less than the following sizes is prohibited.

Species of Fish Minimum Length
Species of Fish Minimum Length
Brill 12 Megrims 10
Cod 12 Plaice 10
Dabs 8 Soles
Haddock 11 Turbot 12
Hake 12 Whitings 8
Lemon Soles 10 Witches 11½

"Any person landing, selling, exposing or offering for sale, or having in his possession for the purpose of selling, any fish of the above descriptions of a smaller size than is stated above is liable to a fine not exceeding £50."

At the time of the appearance of the Order and for some time after it, it was generally considered that its provisions did not apply to anglers. It has since been ruled in a Court of Law that the Order does not apply to amateur anglers.

In addition to this Ministerial order, local Sea Fisheries Committees have by-laws covering species of fish not mentioned in the Order, and anglers are advised to find out whether any such by-laws govern angling in their own areas.

"The Art of Sea Fishing" (1964) Laurie Robinson at page 120

Appendix B

Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Immature Sea Fish Order 1961

Species of Fish Minimum Length
Species of Fish Minimum Length
Cod 11.8 Soles 9.4
Haddock 10.6 Turbot 11.8
Hake 11.8 Brill 11.8
Plaice 9.8 Megrims 9.8
Witches 11 Whitings 9.8
Lemon Soles 9.8 Dabs 7.9

While this Order is mainly for the professional fisherman, the sea angler must see that any of the above fish, less than the minimum size stated above, are returned to the sea, otherwise he could be liable to the penalties laid down by the Order.

"Sea Fishing for Fun" (1977) Alan Wrangles & Jack P. Tupper at pages 9 to 12

1. Where can I fish, and what for ?

Protected Fish

The Sea Fishing Industry (Immature Sea Fish) Order (1968) sets out quite clearly the species which are protected, and the size below which it is an offence to land them. Obviously no one is able to avoid catching small or immature fish, and there is certainly no offence in doing so, but - and this is most important - an immature fish of a protected species should be released and returned to the sea alive as soon as possible.

The species which are protected by law, and the size below which they should not be kept are as follows:

  Cm In
cod 30 11.8
haddock 27 10.6
hake 30 11.8
plaice 25 9.8
witch 28 11.0
lemon sole 25 9.8
sole 24 9.4
turbot 30 11.8
brill 30 11.8
megrim 25 9.8
whiting 25 9.8
dab 15 5.9
bass 26 10.4

… Remember that you, the fisherman, are required to know the law.

… the National Federation of Sea Anglers ask all who belong to affiliated clubs not to keep black bream measuring less than 9in or bass less than 15in from tail fork to nose. Similar restrictions apply to species such as conger eel, dabs and garfish which have NFSA size limits of 28in, 8in and 15in respectively.

At the time of writing, the following are the size limits set by the NFSA, and it will be noted that skate and ray have a weight, not length limit:

bass 15
bream, black 9
bream, red 9
brill 14
bull huss 23
cod 12
conger 28
dab 8
eel, silver 12
flounder 9
garfish 15
gurnard 9
mullet, grey 13
mullet, red 13
mackerel 11
plaice 10
pollack 12
pouting 10
turbot 16
weever 8
whiting 10
wrasse 9
By Weight Lb
skate, common 5lb
thornback 5lb

(Note: In some areas larger limite apply for flounder.)

The above list is not complete. Various species of shark have not been included and, of course from time to time, modifications can be, and are, made to such lists.

"Give Fish a Chance" Initiative: 19th May 2014

National sea angling organisations and NGOs from around the UK have come together to develop common policies regarding the threats and problems facing sea fish and sea angling around the waters of the UK. The initiative, to be known as Give Fish A Chance, will provide "common sense advice" on how anglers can contribute to conservation through a series of voluntary measures as well as promoting best practice in all aspects of sea angling. As a first step the coalition is keen to promote the work that has already been done in Scotland by The Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network and produce a common UK GFAC size table so that anglers can be confident what size each species must be to have had the opportunity to have bred at least once …

GFAC table

Species of Fish GFAC
Species of Fish GFAC
Bass 45 Mackerel 30
Bib (Pout) 20 Megrim 28
Bream - Black 30 Mullet - Grey (thin) 40
Bream - Gilthead 40 Mullet - Grey 40
Bream - Rays 40 Mullet - Red 24
Bream - Red 25 Mullet - Golden Grey 35
Brill 40 Nursehound / Bull Huss 80
Coalfish 60 Plaice 31
Cod 50 Pollack 55
Common Dab 25 Poor Cod 23
Conger 75 Ray - Painted 70
Dover Sole 30 Ray - Blonde 100
Flounder 30 Ray - Cuckoo 60
Garfish 45 Ray - Eagle 70
Gurnard - Streaked 20 Ray - Spotted 55
Gurnard - Grey 25 Ray - Starry 40
Gurnard - Red 20 Ray - Thornback 95
Gurnard - Tub 20 Rockling - 3 bearded 30
Haddock 40 Smooth-hound 80
Hake 50 Torsk / Tusk 50
Halibut 110 Trigger Fish 20
Herring 25 Turbot 40
Horse Mackerel 25 Whiting 27
John Dory 35 Witch 28
Lemon Sole 30 Wolf-fish 60
Lesser Spotted Dogfish 60 Wrasse - Ballan 25
Ling 90 Wrasse - Cuckoo 25

The SSACN would like to remind all anglers fishing in Scottish waters that they must release any of the following: Angel shark, common skate, white skate, porbeagle, spurdog, knifetooth dogfish, sailfin roughshark, greater lanternshark, undulate ray, leafscale gulpershark, portuguese dogfish, blackmouth catshark, longnose velvet dogfish, black dogfish, greenland shark, six-gilled shark, velvet belly, deep-water catsharks, frilled shark, birdbeak dogfish, kitefin shark, tope.


According to a codling becomes a cod when it is mature enough to breed (at around 5 years old). Back in the 1970s that was above 10lb, but overfishing has caused a shift in the gene pool that favours individuals that spawn early which has reduced this weight considerably. Mature cod are around 50cm (20 inches) in length. The "legal" size for landing cod (codling) is 35cm (14 inches). There is no official weight and no such fish as codling - it's just a name given to an immature cod. The change from codling to cod occurs when the codling reaches sexual maturity and is capable of reproduction, the weight being irrelevant.

According to the FAO, cod are sometimes sorted into four size ranges for the purposes of sale, namely, cod, sprag, codling and small codling, but more usually into two sizes only, cod and codling. The following are the generally accepted lengths for each size range, but the dividing line between cod and codling is changed a little from time to time at individual ports to match the market demand to the size of fish available:

Under both the four and two size range systems operated by the FAO, codling of a length greater than 62 cm (24 inches) in length are classified as cod.

"The rate of growth varies considerably from ground to ground, depending on the food available and the temperature of the water, but in the North Sea for example a one-year-old cod will attain a length of 7 to 8 inches, a two-year-old will be 14 to 17 inches and by the end of the fourth year will be 24 to 27 inches long. North Sea cod usually reach maturity when three to five years old, but some may take only two years, others in Arctic waters as long as six to eight years. Growth is generally slower in colder water, and the average size of the adult cod is often less than in more temperate waters; for example a typical six-year-old cod from Bear Island would be about 25 inches long and 4 to 5 lb in weight when gutted, whereas a cod of the same age from the North Sea could be 34 inches long and 12 lb or more in weight. Five-feet-long cod from the Newfoundland area are usually 18 to 20 years old."

See FAO report "The Cod (2001)", section "Size".

According to the Angling Trust, the EUMLS for cod is 35cm (13¾ inches). The EUMLS are said to be "technical measures for the protection of juvenile fish". However:

  1. cod do not reach sexual maturity until they achieve a length of, or greater than, 60cm (23½ inches); and
  2. the approximate size of sexual maturity for species of the Gadidae family - including cod (60cm: 23½ inches), whiting (30cm: 11¾ inches), haddock (40cm: 15¾ inches), pollack (50cm: 19½ inches) and coalfish (70cm: 27½ inches) - can vary wildly depending on a number of factors.

With conservation in mind, and using the best available scientific evidence, the Trust has identified these approximate sizes of sexual maturity for females of species of the Gadidae family which represent the size at which 50% of those species have reached sexual maturity. The Trust emphasises that these are not recommended retention size limits, but anglers retaining fish above these sizes can be reasonably confident that these fish will have had the chance to have bred at least once.

"Sea-fishing as a sport" (1865) Lambton J. H. Young at page 106

The Common Cod or Keeling

… All the family of Gadidæ are in the best condition for table during the cold season of the year; the young ones abound at the mouth of the Thames and Medway during the whole summer - they are then about six inches in length; but as autumn advances, they gain both in size and strength, and are caught with hand-lines near the many sandbanks in the Channel; they are called when of the size of whiting, codlings, and skinners, and when larger, tumbling or tamling cod. They are usually from twenty to forty pounds in weight, more or less; …

"The Sea and the Rod" (1892) Deputy Surgeon-General Charles Thomas Paske & Frederick George Aflalo at pages 94 & 95

Chapter VII

The Cod

As far as the amateur is concerned, large cod form the exception on our coasts rather than the rule; the rod usually taking only codlings, ranging from 2 lbs. to 6 lbs. These nevertheless afford most excellent sport, and eat, if anything, better than their elders, owing to their being cooked whole, and the consequent obviating of that cutting up that so spoils fish for the table; for which reason too I should always select a small turbot in preference to a few pounds of a large one, of which all the goodness is perforce left in the fish-kettle.

"The Badminton Library: Sea Fishing" (1895) John Bickerdyke at page 380

Cod, Haddocks, Whiting, Bream etc

… the young cod, now an inch long, come shorewards and feed and are fed on, many millions doubtless being eaten by larger fish and sea birds. When a year old they seek deeper water. Fishermen call anything under twenty inches codling, from twenty to thirty inches sprags, then come half cod and then cod. They are such voracious feeders, and the sea is such a good feeding ground, that their growth is undoubtedly very rapid. According to Jackson, some cod which were in the Southport Aquarium grew from three-quarters of a pound to six or seven pounds each in a period of about sixteen months, and they would without much doubt grow still faster in the sea.

"An Angler's Year" (1904) Charles S. Patterson at page 191

Chapter XII


Sea-Fishing at Deal – November

It has always been a puzzle to the writer to know where a cod begins and a codling leaves off. Most sea-anglers, if other people catch such fish, call them codling; should they happen to fall to their own rods, they call them cod. The safest system seems to take the average of sexual maturity (3½lbs to 5lbs), and then to call all over 5lbs cod.

"Practical Sea-Fishing" (1905) P. L. Haslope at page 81

Sea-Fish: Their Habits and Capture

Small (cod) fish, ranging in weight from about 5lb downwards, are known as codling.

"Sea Fishing" (1911) Charles Owen Minchin at pages 43, 49 & 50

Chapter IV: The Cod

… The cod then continue their growth at a great pace. At one year of age they average about 5½ in, and (according to Cunningham) 10 in to 12½ in at two years, 17 in to 18 in at three years, and 27 in at four years. By the time that the females have reached that size they are coming to maturity, and the males have usually attained years of discretion at a smaller average length.

… In the North Sea the study of the results of trawling prosecuted by the Scottish Fishery Board affords some evidence that codlings (as the immature but marketable cod are called) are to be found in the shallower waters near land so long as the weather still has some warmth; but when the water has been thoroughly chilled the large full-sized cod are found (probably with a view to spawning) near the land, while the codlings are out in deeper (and slightly warmer) waters far away to sea. On the coasts of England and Ireland there are often in autumn and early winter enough cod to be found to give amusement to amateur fishermen, though not enough, if it were not for other fish, to afford a livelihood to the professional hookers.

… It has been remarked that the cod found in the south part of the Flemish Bight and the eastern end of the English Channel are stouter built and heavier, length for length, than those of the Dogger Bank, but until marking experiments have been carried out to a considerable extent it would be premature to postulate that the "Downs' Cod" are, in fact, a separate race from their northern kinsfolk, though decidedly there is a marked difference in appearance quite obvious even at a casual glance. As evidence, for what it is worth, that the Downs' cod are local it may be mentioned that after a great scarcity for some seasons an enormous number of codlings from 20 to 24 inches long made their appearance in 1908; the next year there were many fish about 5 lbs in weight, and the following winter captures of thirty to fifty full-sized fishes of 10 lbs and upwards were often made by the long-liners. There is a proverb which says, "Do not prophesy unless you know", but it does not deter me from risking the prediction that if fishermen will try the cod-grounds near the South Goodwin Light and in Old Stairs Bay in November and December, 1911, they will find some large fish waiting for them.

"Modern Sea Angling" (1921) Francis Dyke Holcombe at pages 170 & 171

Chapter XIV: Cod

Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the fishing at Ballycotton in 1919 was the presence in those waters of very large numbers of codling, quite an unusual feature there. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the bottom of the sea was fairly paved with them, the fish usually ranging in weight from 2lb to about 5lb or 6lb apiece - a state of things which the writer believes to be due to the great diminution in trawling during the war.

"Sea Fishing Simplified" (1929) Francis Dyke Holcombe & A. Fraser-Brunner at page 22

Chapter III

I don't know the exact weight at which a codling becomes a cod; probably the difference between the two is about the same as that between a jack and a pike. [2]

[2] Editor's note: female pike grow much larger than the males and fish of ten pounds or more will be female. Smaller pike of less than five pounds in weight are commonly called "Jacks" although sometimes even larger fish of up to seven, eight or even ten pounds are referred to as "Jack Pike" - see "The Book of the Pike" by Henry Cholmondeley-Pennell (1865) at pages 17 & 18:

There has always been a moot point connected with the weight of this fish, viz., at what size it ceases to be a "Jack" and becomes a "Pike". Walton says at two feet; Sir J. Hawkins at 3lbs.; Mr. Wood at 2lbs.; Salter at 3lbs.; Hofland at 3lbs., or when it exceeds 24 inches in length; "Piscator" ('Practical Angler') says 4lbs.; "Glenfin," 3lbs.; Mr. Elaine, 4 or 5 lbs.; Carpenter, 3lbs.; "Ephemera" 4lbs. in his notes to Walton, and 3 or 4 lbs. in his 'Handbook of Angling'; whilst Captain Williamson recognizes no distinction, but, calls them indiscriminately Pike and Jack. Under these circumstances and considering that the distinction unlike that between the Salmon and Grilse is purely arbitrary, it would appear to be desirable that for the future an 'act of uniformity' be passed; and as the majority of writers seem to favour the 3 pounds qualification, that standard might perhaps be in future adopted by general consent as the point at which the young Pickerels cast off the Jack and assume the full dignities of Pike-hood.

"The Sportsman's Library: Sea Fishing" (1935) Major D. P. Lea Birch ("Fleur-de-Lys") at pages 127 & 132

Chapter VIII: Cod

The fish reaches maturity at the end of four years, when well grown specimens may weigh 7 to 10lb. In the late autumn run on our east coast many codling of these weights are taken by anglers fishing from pier or beach, as well as from boats.

A hefty codling of 6 or 7lb, though it may not do anything wildly exciting, yet makes quite an excellent fight. And afterwards, cooked fresh from the sea, it is a dish beyond all praise.

"Modern Sea Fishing" (1937) Eric Cooper at page 200

The Cod, Whiting and Pouting

Young cod, which are often very variable in their markings, are known by many names locally. There is no hard-and-fast rule as to when the fish can aspire to the name of cod, but it is generally taken that, unless they can turn the scales at 6lb, they must be referred to as codling.

"Sea Angling: Modern Methods and Tackle" (1952) Alan Young at page 98

Other Fish


No one in authority has yet laid down when a codling becomes a cod, but cod below 4 to 6 lb - the standard changing with the locality - are classed as codling. They are extremely useful fish for the shore angler, for though they give no more sport than their elders, they are very numerous, and fill the bag and the pot during the winter months.

"The Sea Angler's Fishes" (1954) Michael Kennedy at pages 271, 282 & 283

Cod and Haddock

Local Names

Typical large cod have no special local names, but the smaller fish are commonly termed codling. In the trawling industry certain sizes are designated "sprags". In some places successive sizes are termed, respectively, "pickers" (second season); "tamblin" or "tamlin" (third season); "half-codfish" (fourth season); and "cod" or "codfish" (larger and older specimens) …

(Michael) Graham gives the following growth rate for the North Sea …

Age in Complete Years Average Length (inches) Average Weight (lb oz) Average Length (cm) Average Weight (kg)
1 7 14oz 17.8cm 0.397kg
2 14 1lb 11oz 35.5cm 0.765kg
3 22 4lb 4oz 55.9cm 1.928kg
4 27 7lb 3oz 68.6cm 3.26kg
5 31 11lb 1oz 78.7cm 5.18kg
6 35 15lb 8oz 88.9cm 7.31kg

Editor's note: metric conversions added for comparison purposes.

Age and Size at Maturity

(E.W.L.) Holt gives the minimum length of mature cod (both sexes) in the North Sea as 22 inches, and the length of the largest immature cod as 35 inches … It would seem, therefore, that in our waters some (the more rapidly growing) cod become mature at three years old, when 22 to 23 inches in minimum length, while an occasional fast-growing male fish may become mature at as little as two years old. But some cod are five years old, or even older, before becoming mature.

"Sea Fishing with the Experts" (1956) Jack Thorndike at page 20

Cod and Whiting

… By and large, however, the greatest number of cod taken by the sea angler will be fish averaging 3 to 4lb in weight, and these go under the name of codling. John Bickerdyke classified codling by length and not by weight, and called a fish under 20 inches a codling, a fish between 20 and 30 inches a sprag, and thereafter half-cod and cod.

"The Modern Sea Angler" (1958) Hugh Stoker at pages 92 & 93

Chapter Nine

Sea Fish Worth Catching - and How to Catch Them


… The rod-and-line angler, however, can count himself lucky when one of his fish tops the 10-lb mark, and in fact most of those caught from the shore will be considerably smaller. Those under 6 lb are generally referred to as codling.

"Sea Angling" (1965) Derek Fletcher at page 92

The Cod

(Cod) … may run to large weights, and, although anglers prefer the smaller fish (called codling for eating), the larger fish do provide good winter sport for the hardy. Just when a codling becomes a cod is a matter of opinion. It appears to be left to the angler and how good a tale he wants to tell. Generally anything under 5lb is termed a codling.

"The Sea Angler Afloat and Ashore" (1965) Desmond Brennan at page 215

Cod, Ling and Hake

When a codling becomes a cod has long been a source of argument and differs widely from place to place. In most areas anything under 6 to 8 lb is classed as a codling or tamblin while in others nothing under 10 to 11 lb would be deemed worthy of being called a cod.

"Sea Angling" (1967) Alan Wrangles at page 64

The Quarry


Codling, fish between 1 and 6 lb, are caught around the south-east coast during March and April. By May they have usually departed, though the exact time depends, of course, upon weather and temperature.

Following the arrival of shoals of herring and sprat in the autumn, early October usually sees the return of the larger cod, i.e. fish above 7 lb. During the Christmas and New Year period the run is often at its height and some fantastic sport can be enjoyed by beach anglers.

"Popular Sea Fishing" (1968) Peter Wheat (editor) at pages 92, 93 & 102

Cod Fishing (Cyril Precious)

… The minimum size at which the species can be taken is set at 12 inches; at this age the codling - as immature cod are called - will be 18 months old. Growth rate is fairly steady and by the time they reach three years they will have grown to a length of about 25 inches …

… Although the beach angler seeks sport mainly with immature codling weighing between 12 oz at minimum to between 7 and 9 lb, the offshore boat angler will be more concerned in the winter with catching cod to 30 lb - even as early as the autumn bigger cod can be caught at the Varne Bank which lies well offshore …

… January, the big cod move off-shore to the deep spawning areas, but there will still be hordes of immature codling from about 1 lb to 7 lb for the beachcaster and rock angler.

"Pelham Manual for Sea Anglers" (1969) Derek Fletcher at pages 33 & 160

The Manual

Small cod, those up to about 6lb, are known as codling and are very sweet for the table. No matter what their size they can accommodate really big baits and will take almost anything offered. Sprats are very good, so also are bunches of lugworm, but you will get sport on mussel, crabs, pieces of herring, squid, slipper limpet - all according to locality. As regards the best fishing time, there does seem to be a preference for a fast running tide, particularly at dusk or dawn, although fish are taken in all weather conditions, rough and smooth.

"Modern Sea Angling" (1970) Richard Arnold at page 45

The Round Fishes


Codling is the term usually covering cod up to about 4lb in weight, though some fishermen may name them by size and not by weight. Thus a codling would be less than 20 inches in length, a fish half as long again would be named a sprag. There are other names used also, coupled with weight and size of fish, such as half-cods and cods. Cod can run to a large size and fish up to and over 20lb are not uncommon.

… The cod has excellent culinary properties, though choice would perhaps be given to the larger codling, or Tom-Cods as they are termed, for sweetness of flavour rather than to the larger specimens.

"Competition Sea Angling" (1970) Bruce McMillen at page 53

4. Methods

Although no event would be settled without accurate scales, it is not difficult to imagine a situation where the following formula could be extremely useful. To ascertain the approximate weight in pounds of a fish: multiply the square of the girth (the measurement to be taken at the thickest point) by the length (from point of mouth to crotch of tail) then divide the result by 800. (All measurements should be taken in inches.) Example: 10in girth squared is 100; length 20in multiplied by 100 is 2,000; 2,000 divided by 800 goes exactly 2½ times, therefore the approximate weight of the fish would be 2½lb. On the same basis, a 30in fish with a girth of 20in should weigh approximately 15lb. In actual practice, it is surprising how accurate this formula is.

"Sea Fishing for Beginners" (1970) Maurice Wiggin at page 120

Chapter VII

Fishing from the Shore

Perhaps a distinction should be made between the codling and the cod. The cod grows to a great size, twenty-pounders are common; the codling is simply a young cod of about four or five pounds. Codling is to cod as lamb is to mutton. Of course they are exactly the same fish at different stages of growth, but their habits vary a bit. Thus the small stuff seems to hang around, whereas the big chaps come in close only during the autumn and winter. In really bitter weather cod come amazingly close inshore. Whereas very cold water drives most fish offshore to the warmer deeps, where they go to spawn, anyway.

"Estuary Fishing" (1974) Frank Holiday at pages 107 to 109

Chapter Eight

Cod and Whiting

Methods: pirk or feathers

… not all anglers are interested in ultra-large cod, especially those who fish mostly for the pot. Codling of between 3-6 lb are a far better proposition for the cook than are the coarse-flaked leviathans. Most of these codling are caught from the open shore. Sea fishing in winter from a boat off the coast is both uncomfortable and hazardous except on very favourable days. Anglers therefore take advantage of the codling's habit of feeding against a beach, especially after dark. In estuaries, on the other hand, winter boating is entirely possible and a boat enables anglers to anchor in the deeper channels where the codling are likely to run.


Cod and codling are not very active fish when hooked. They tend to bore around, offering resistance mostly by opening their huge mouths. However I noticed when taking codling from relatively shallow water such as in the Solway Firth and in the Stour estuary at Felixstowe that these fish put up a better fight than those taken from deeper water. They are of course excellent food and Kennedy rates them next to haddock. Myself, I think a well-flavoured codling, properly cooked, is as tasty as anything in British waters, salt or fresh.

Fishing for codling is a traditional sport in many estuaries. The best rig is probably a simple paternoster carrying a 3/0 or 4/0 hook. Some anglers use two hooks on double snoods but this presents problems with wind resistance when casting, the baits for codling being fairly massive. Codling are such gross feeders that it is hardly possible to over-do the portion you offer them. Bulky baits such as squid are a favourite as well as large chunks of herring or frozen mackerel. Lug is also a good codling-catcher and thousands of fish are taken annually with this bait. Although large black lug are much sought-after as a codling-bait I myself prefer the softer red type even though they need renewing on the hook fairly often. Mussel is a traditional cod bait. For shore-casting it needs to be mounted as a 'cocktail', the tougher retaining bait - squid, for example - being placed on the hook last.

Boat fishing for codling in estuaries means first of all locating a good mark. Without a mark you may well catch a couple of fish or even several fish - but the bulk of the sport will be missed as the codling stream past on the tide. Rough ground that will hold the fish and keep them foraging around is the thing to look for. If the estuary dries out such places can be found at low water. In the case of big estuaries which don't dry out one can only study the charts, watch where local boats fish and conduct trial-and-error drifts. Drifting with a pirk mounted with a single hook is one way of discovering codling marks.

In the south-west and west there is a local race of codling which spend the summer offshore in deep water and turn up in estuaries during the winter when the herring arrive. These fish are reddish in the summer - perhaps because they lurk in beds of red seaweed - but they darken on coming inshore and there is then not much to distinguish them from ordinary North Sea codling. These fish are small - from 2 to 6 lb - and they seem to be a different type to the cod of the Severn estuary. They are variable fish and some years they fail to arrive at all. However this is true of all cod, relatively speaking. The inshore migrations, even in the prolific North Sea, are either a bumper harvest or fail to live up to expectations. We still have a lot to learn even about the humble codfish!

"Sea Angler's First Handbook (Pan Anglers' Library)" (1975) Alan Vare & Arthur E. Hardy at page 20

The Angler's Sea Fishes - Their Haunts, Food, Season and Weights

Cod and Codling

… Codling are simply smaller cod, under 5lb or so.

"Fisherman's Handbook" (1977) Trevor Housby, The Marshall Cavendish Volume 1, Part 3 at page 72


Cod Gadus morhua

Fewer - but larger

It was commonplace ten years ago to take a boat not far out from Dover, Ramsgate, Deal, Hastings and other south east coast places, and bring in 50 lb of prime cod and codling (all cod of up to 6 lb are called codling). But the same does not apply today …

"Cod Fishing" (1978) Bob Gledhill at pages 8 to 11


The great tragedy about cod trawling is the size limit. Logically, the size limit should be after the first spawning year. This way, although the cod is trawled up, it has had a chance to replace itself. This is the way size limits are operated with that other highly commercial fish, the plaice, which spawns at nine inches and can be trawled at ten inches.

Even a fast-growing cod will be 4lb before it is sexually mature, and think how many cod under that size are trawled up. And dare I suggest that anglers take more immature fish than mature fish ?

Cod - the fish and how it works

… The age of sexual maturity of the cod varies widely. The dense shoals of spawning cod that descend upon the Lofoten Islands off the North West coast of Norway every spring can be anything from eight to 12 years old before they mature. This is a direct result of poor feeding. Around the shores of Great Britain, where the feeding is good, cod can be as young as two or three years when they mature … The growth rate of cod varies with the quality of the feeding. Rich, inshore waters provide a much higher growth rate than deeper, offshore areas. The average growth rate for inshore cod is shown in Figure 1.

Growth Rate Scale for Cod
Age in Years 1 2 3 4 5 6
Average Length in cms 18 36 55 68 78 89
Length Increase in cms 18 19 13 10 11 -
Percentage Increase 100 52 23 14 14 -

… Many of the statistics on cod fecundity and growth that form the basis of study today comes from the pioneering work of Michael Graham who, in the 1920s-40s, made extensive studies of cod from the North Sea. His growth rate figures were 3¼in in six months, 6-7in after one year, 10in after one and a half years, 14in after two years, 17in after two and a half years, and 22in after three years.

Figures published in the late 1960s by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of cod growth in the Irish Sea were: one year, 8in (4oz); one and a half years, 12in (¾lb); two years, 16in (1½lb); three years, 20in (2½lb).

Thirty years of research has done nothing to invalidate Michael Graham's work or to show any appreciable change in the growth rate of cod despite a considerable reduction in numbers.

"200 Sea Fishing Tips" (1982) Ivan & Ivor Garey Tip 175

30. Cod and Codling

175. Cod and codling fishing

The record cod was caught by a beginner and weighed 53lb! It is not surprising that legions of anglers are addicted to cod and codling fishing. The smaller fish, up to 6lb, are called codling; everything above that weight is proudly referred to as a cod. We modestly fish for codling, secretly hoping to catch cod. The codling season runs from October to April and codling fishing is therefore essentially an occupation for the hardy winter angler.

"Go Fishing for Cod" (1989) Graeme Pullen at pages 12, 13 & 14


Codling are generally regarded as smaller fish, though at which stage of its life a codling becomes a cod is unknown. The term codling I have seen applied to a fish of 10 lb and that I would almost certainly classify as a fully grown fish. In my mind a codling can be called a cod when it reaches a weight of about 3 lb. If they weigh under one pound they can be called codlets, and anything under four ounces is a fish finger! It's hard to become conservation minded with this species as it is such a primary food source and is not under direct threat of extinction, although commercial fishing must surely be taking its toll on stocks …

… Cod are prime white-fleshed eating fish. In most angling circles you would be deemed a bit short in the brain department if you put them back alive, as it would be like emptying the cash register over the side. However, I respect the individual views of each angler, and if your mind is set on the preservation of the species through conservation then by all means return fish. What I should point out, however, is that those fish returned, with the exception of beach-caught fish, have little chance of survival. They have a swim bladder, and when pumped up to the surface blow up with air and are unable to swim back down if released. Some species can have this air bladder punctured by a sharp ice-pick which pops the air bag just behind the pectoral fin. I have done this with 50-lb amberjacks off wrecks in Florida, and it has been proved by tagging that they will survive. Even when that air bladder is pierced, however, the cod can't muster enough strength to get back down to the sea bed, and is simply swept away on the tide. It is better to keep them for eating, than see them go to waste due to misguided conservation efforts. If you catch more than you can eat or freeze down, either find a market for them or simply give them away to friends and relatives.

"The Complete Book of Fishing: Tackle and Techniques" (1992) Alan Yates and Jed Entwistle at page 54

6. Beach and Promenade Fishing for Bass, Cod, Rays and Flatfish

Beach Fishing for Cod

The angler fishing from a clean storm beach in search of cod is most likely to encounter fish under 6lb (3.2kg). These are classed as codling, and are found in large shoals which feed on virtually all marine life forms.

"Cod Fishing: The Complete Guide" (1997) Dave Lewis at pages 12 & 14

1. The Life-Cycle of the Cod

When cod are one year old they are about six inches long, and feed heavily on small fish and shrimps and just about anything else which is edible. These small immature fish are often caught in large numbers by anglers, who should treat them with great care and return them unharmed as soon as possible.

By the end of their second year these fish will have packed on a lot of weight. Now they will measure up to 16 inches, with an average weight of about 1½ pounds. The legal size limit for taking codling in the UK is 14 inches.

At about three years old codling weigh between 4 and 6 pounds, at which age about 25 per cent of fish reach spawning maturity.

By the time these young fish are four years old the biggest fish will weigh over 10 pounds, and somewhere in the region of 60 to 70 per cent of fish are mature. It is worth noting at this stage that anglers in most areas class fish of less than 5-7 pounds in weight as codling, and bigger fish as cod.

Sadly, very few cod live to five years old, another reflection on the near constant and heavy commercial pressure which the fish are exposed to throughout their lives. Five-year-old cod average around fifteen pounds in weight. From now on, cod add approximately four pounds of body weight per year [1], a factor which depends very much on the availability of food, which itself is generally a reflection on where the fish live. Fish in the North Sea and Irish Sea are slow growing when compared with those fish which live in the western approaches to the English Channel, though in this instance these slower-growing fish tend to be more prolific.

[1] Editor's Note: applying the author's formula for cod growth of 4lb of body weight added in each year after the fifth gives the following age\weight ratios for mature cod:

Age (years) 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Weight (lbs) 15 19 23 27 31 35 39 43 47 51 55

Chart (below) showing weight designation (in pounds) of "codling" by 24 authors of sea angling books published over the 105 year period 1892 to 1997

Put simply, because (a) a codling becomes a cod when (if) it achieves sexual maturity, and (b) sexual maturity in cod is variable, a "rule of thumb" is required to protect the species: so, if it's shorter than 2ft (60cm) or weighs less than 6lb (2.7kg) return it alive to the sea (the "6/60 rule") …

Table (below) showing the median (5.5), average (5.25), mode (6) and standard deviation (1.07) of these designated codling sizes

Sustainability of Commercial Cod Fishing

Chart (below) showing minimum "retention" or "landing" sizes (length) of cod from 1740 to date

Chart (below) showing (a) proposed solution to the problem of unsustainable overfishing of cod by the commercial trawler fleet, (b) current decline in cod stocks created by the commercial trawler fleet encouraged, aided and abetted by UK and EU legislation, and (c) proposed solution to ensure sustainable catches of cod by the commercial trawler fleet. On average sexual maturity in cod is achieved at 24 inches (60cm) so set the MLS at that length. This solution was first acknowledged in 1895 and is as valid today as it was 120 years ago …