What Percent of a Whole Atlantic Cod Is Edible?

Updated on December 10, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Science graduate and business advisor, health educator and author, Beth writes on a wide variety of subjects.

How Much of a Whole Fish Can You Eat?

If you have ever bought a whole fish from the slab at a fishmonger or caught and gutted your own, you will be amazed by how little flesh there is at the end of the filleting and gutting process.

The price per pound (or per kilogram) when buying a whole fish is much cheaper than purchasing already-filleted fish. This is because a large proportion of each fish is discarded during the filleting process. The discards include the bones, head, tail, intestines, scales, and gills. These need not be wasted. You can make a tasty fish soup from these "unwanted" parts.

Atlantic Cod with distinctive barbel tag under its chin.
Atlantic Cod with distinctive barbel tag under its chin. | Source

Percentage Weight Discarded on Atlantic Cod Fish

The Atlantic Cod fish is prized because its firm flesh has a meaty texture and mild taste. The flakes of its flesh remain intact and do not disintegrate when cooked.

The amount of edible flesh on an average sized Atlantic Cod is around 50% of its original weight. This percentage varies with the species of fish and the size and age of the fish when it was caught. The remaining 50% is made up of the intestines and scales (which are normally discarded) and the head, tail, bones and gills which can be boiled to make fish broth.

Sonny Elliott of Rockanore Fisheries, UK says that half the weight of each landed catch is thrown away. "If we're filleting 100kg of cod, nearly 50kg of heads, guts and bones ends up going to landfill," he said. "Occasionally people ask for bones to make stock, but mostly they just want flesh."

The video below shows a whole cod being eviscerated and filleted on a commercial fishing boat.

How To Fillet Cod

Commercial Fishing and Atlantic Cod (Gadus Morhua)

The Atlantic Cod (Gadus Morhua) is a favorite with cooks across Europe and America. The species is found off the coasts of northern USA, Greenland, the North and Baltic Seas and around Iceland.

During the 1990s there was a dramatic drop in the size of commercial catches as a result of overfishing. A temporary moratorium was introduced in some sea areas to allow Atlantic Cod numbers to return to their former levels. In recent years shoal numbers have improved, but the species is still not as abundant as it was before.

In 2017, for the first time in 20 years, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) declared Atlantic cod stocks in the North Sea to be once more sustainable. They gave approval for English and Scottish fishermen to restart fishing for cod in the area.

World's Biggest Atlantic Cod Catches

Size and Weight of an Individual Atlantic Cod Fish

Atlantic Cod is a long living species. Some individual fish are known to have lived for twenty-five years although 12 to 13 years is more usual. Cod can grow to around 100 kilograms (220 pounds) in weight but the average weight of individual Atlantic Cod caught by commercial fishermen is between 5 to12 kilograms (11 to 26 pounds).

If you had an Atlantic Cod weighing, say, ten kilograms and removed 50% of it (bones, guts etc.), there will be five kilograms (eleven pounds) of edible flesh on the average sized Atlantic (Gadus morhua) Cod.

Fish Bones, Head and Tail

Do you make fish soup (or broth) from fish bones, head, tail etc.?

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Making Use of the Discards - Fish Soup or Broth

Rather than throw away 50% of a whole fish, the discards can be used to make a tasty fish soup or broth. There are many recipes for this. They involve boiling the bones, head, tail and gills together with onions, and root vegetables to make a fish stock. Once the bones and other fish remains have been strained out, you will be left with fish liquor. This can be seasoned to taste. The addition of further vegetables, pearl barley or fish flesh to the liquor will make a tasty and wholesome stew. The video below shows how simple it is to make a fish stock that can be used in fish stews and sauces.

Fish Stock Recipe

What to Look For When Buying Fresh Fish

Fish's Eyes
Firm and springy
Indents easily
Fresh like melon or cucumber
Strong and offensive
Fish's Gills
Bright red or bright pink
Gray or pale color
Touch/ Feel

How to Buy Fresh Fish

Should You Buy Whole Fish or Ready Filleted?

Whenever possible, it is always better to buy a whole fish; that way you are able to see, smell and touch the whole fish before you commit to purchase. You will be able to assess the signs of freshness as described in the table and video above.

Once the fishmonger has weighed and priced the whole fish, he can fillet it for you. This is usually quicker and more convenient than doing it yourself as his knives will be really sharp. However, make sure that you ask him for all the discarded parts; i.e. skin, bones, entrails etc. as these can be used to make fish stock for bouillabaisse or some other delicious fish dish. Now you know that only half a cod fish is edible flesh, don’t waste 50% of your purchase!

A whole Atlantic Cod fish.
A whole Atlantic Cod fish. | Source

How Much Cod Should You Buy Per Serving?

Cod is a large fish (11 to 20 lbs live weight when caught). You will therefore be buying fillets to cook rather than a whole fish.

An average serving or portion size would be approximately 6oz to 8oz of cod steaks or fillets depending on your family's appetite. A whole cod-fish will feed between 10 and 15 people. (50% of the whole fish is discarded as bones, skin etc.)

If you are not sure how much to buy, ask your fishmonger. S/he will be happy to discuss the best ways to cook cod and how this affects serving size.


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