Illustration: Jón Baldur Hlíðberg


Saithe fishing grounds in 2011 (t/nm2), all gear combined, dark areas indicate highest catches.

Source: The Marine Research Institute


Saithe catch (t) in Icelandic waters

Source: ICES, Statistics Iceland


Saithe catch (t) by month

Source: Statistics Iceland, weight reports


Saithe catch (t) by fishing gear

Source: Statistics Iceland, weight reports


Saithe. spawning stock, fishable stock (ages 4+) biomass (thous. t) at spawning time and average fishing mortality (ages 4-9)

Source: The Marine Research Institute


Saithe catch (t) by type of processing

Source: Statistics Iceland, processing reports


Value of exported saithe products by main countries in 2011 (FOB million ISK)

Source: Statistics Iceland, processing reports

Scientific: Pollachius virens. English: Saithe, coalfish, pollock. Icelandic: Ufsi. For more languages see the Marine Animal Dictionary.

Biology and distribution

The saithe is a large codfish, usually between 70 and 110 cm long in catches, but the largest individual caught in Icelandic waters measured 132 cm. It is found all around Iceland, but is rarer in the colder waters to the north and east of the country. The saithe can be described as benthopelagic fish, i.e., it occurs both close to the bottom and in the water column. It has a streamlined shape and is consequently a very good swimmer. It can swim rapidly all over the Icelandic continental shelf and individuals tagged in Icelandic waters have several times been fished along mainland Europe. Fishes tagged in Europe have also been fished in Icelandic waters. The saithe is native to European waters from Murmansk in the north to the English Channel in the south. It is also found around the Faroe Islands, in Greenlandic waters and from Labrador to Cape Cod in North America.

The saithe feeds primarily on pelagic organisms. Krill is the most important food for young fish, but is also consumed by large individuals. Capelin and sandeels are the most important foods for larger saithe, but other fishes are also eaten to a lesser extent. Spawning takes place along the south and southwest coasts, from January to March; earlier than other codfishes. In mid June the juveniles are very common in shallow waters all around Iceland. They gradually move into deeper waters as they grow older. Growth is rather rapid and the saithe reaches sexual maturity at the age of 5 or 6 years.

Catch and fishing methods

The saithe has, for a long time, been one of the most important commercial fish species in Icelandic waters. Catches have been from 30,000 to 130,000 tonnes annually since 1950. Almost all the current catches are by Icelandic boats, but the saithe was also an important catch for the German fleet, when it conducted its fisheries in Icelandic waters.

The current catches are mostly taken with bottom trawl and spread rather evenly over the year. However, considerable catches also used to be taken by gillnetters. The saithe both sustains direct catches and exists as a bycatch in cod and haddock fisheries. Most of the catches are along the continental shelf break, off the south and west coast. Presumably these are the main feeding grounds for the saithe. Fisheries for juvenile saithe with fishing rod are also popular with human juveniles in harbours all around Iceland.

Stock status

See the Marine Research Institute

Processing and markets

The processing methods for saithe are fairly similar as for cod. A large part is filleted and frozen at sea by freezer trawlers or iced at sea and subsequently filleted and frozen in shore based factories. A considerable part is also salted and dried.

Saithe is sold all over the world, the largest market being in Germany, where there is a long tradition to eat saithe. A large and similar market is also in the Netherlands. Most of the frozen fillets go to these markets as well as to France, Lithuania, United States, besides most other countries. However, there are two major exceptions to this, the salted fish mostly goes to Spain and the dried fish to Nigeria.

References and further information

Hreiðar Þór Valtýsson, University of Akureyri