The world’s finest cod

by Thomas Jensen
Marius Fiskum, Norwegian Seafood Council

The areas around the Lofoten Islands and Vesterålen are the most important fishing grounds for skrei, which are fished during the winter and early spring.

Within just a few years skrei or winter cod has become an important addition to the range of seafood available because it combines seasonality with high product quality and its own special story. Prestigious service counters and restaurants upgrade their image with skrei boosting sales.

Skrei is a seasonal Norwegian cod. It comes from the world‘s largest cod stocks in the Barents Sea in the north-eastern Arctic. When cod (Gadus morhua) reaches maturity at the age of about five years it migrates during the winter months to its place of birth on the Norwegian coasts to spawn there. That means skrei is a fish that has reached the best phase of its life. Skrei have made this journey to their place of birth to spawn every winter for thousands of years, phenomenon that is unique to Norway. In fact, the term “skrei” is derived from the old Norwegian word “skrida” which means “migrate” or “migrant”.

Special quality label reflects very high standards

The Norwegian seafood industry has developed a quality label for this special fish, Skrei®.

Only top-quality skrei which has been caught, processed and packaged according to strictly stipulated conditions that are laid down in an official quality standard is given the special quality rating and can bear the label Skrei®. It is thus easily distinguishable from other skrei and cod products. Skrei®-labelled fish must be a mature Norwegian cod of the species Gadus morhua which comes from the Barents Sea. They are only found in the winter season (1st January to 30th April) in the traditional spawning grounds along the Norwegian coast. To carry the label the product must be packaged and stored at a temperature between 0 and 4 degrees on ice within twelve hours of the catch. Whole fresh fish have to be individually marked with the label on the foremost dorsal fin and packed in crates which are also marked with the label. Fresh fillets, portions, or steaks must bear this label on the exterior of their packaging.

Skrei has a longer, more pointed shape and a paler skin colour than coastal cod.

Companies operating in the Norwegian fisheries sector that want to sell their fish with the label must be registered in the quality labelling system of the Norwegian Seafood Council. Following registration they receive a quality standard which they then have to fulfil. The fishing companies are then entitled to mark high-quality skrei with the quality label. The purpose of the quality labelling system is to contribute towards making market communication easier and more transparent and to give a tool to the Norwegian Seafood Council, fishery enterprises, fish processors and suppliers, retailers and restaurants. The label guarantees that the skrei in question is of consistently high quality. An independent certification body monitors the registered companies and ensures that the products they deliver fulfil the quality standard.

Skrei stands apart from other cod

Skrei differs from other cod with regard to its longer more pointed shape and a paler skin colour. Apart from that, it migrates over large distances and spends its juvenile years in the Barents Sea. In contrast, other cod are predominantly found in coastal waters and have a very large head in comparison with their body. Skrei does not eat much on its migration from the Barents Sea to the north Norwegian coast (Lofoten Islands). Only those fish which succeed in building up a good condition after intensive feeding in the Barents Sea begin the long journey to their spawning grounds. After the first spawning some of the mature cod skip the second spawning. This share is probably much lower in coastal cod on account of the shorter distance to the spawning grounds.

Marius Fiskum, Norwegian Seafood Council
The Skrei ® label reflects very high standards of quality that cover the catching, processing, and packaging of the fish.

Quality specifications start at the vessel


Skrei is caught in the traditional spawning grounds along the Norwegian coast. The areas around the Lofoten Islands and Vesterålen are the most important fishing grounds for skrei whereby the total spawning area stretches from the Møre coast in the south to the Finnmark coast in the high north. Because the fish is taken live out of the sea, killed on board the fishing vessel, immediately bled and cleaned with sea water, then properly processed and stored at a temperature around zero degrees it maintains its excellent quality for a further eight to ten days after the catch but should then no longer be eaten raw. Skrei has to be stored at a constantly low temperature. An interruption of the cold chain will have an immediate impact on the quality. The quality standard for Skrei® includes strict provisions with regard to fishing methods, bleeding, gutting, landing, packing, and the unbroken cold chain for optimal storage conditions for this fish. The sellers are responsible for removing any fish from the sales process if they have exceeded their sell-by date.

The different factors which lead to skrei’s changing its spawning grounds over the course of time are not yet fully known. Availability is mainly dependent on weather conditions. In winter, bad weather can stop the fishermen from reaching the fishing grounds with their fishing vessels. General climatic conditions are a further factor. Water temperatures and salinity determine the point of time and arrival of the skrei in the fishing grounds.

Skrei is a sustainably fished resource

The largest cod population is found in the Barents Sea. This stock to which skrei belongs is considered one of the best managed cod stocks worldwide. Norway has a holistic approach to sustainable management which is based on long-term thinking. Norway and Russia share the responsibility for the protection of the stocks and take a joint decision every year on how high the catch quotas should be. These are in accordance with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the fisheries commission whose job it is to achieve high yields in the long term and at the same time attain a certain stability of catch volume from year to year. The management system in the Barents Sea is also recognized by WWF and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and KRAV.

Skrei migrate a long way to spawn – from the Barents Sea to the north of Norway, a distance of more than 1,000 km.

The Norwegian authorities have excellent opportunities for controlling the activities of fishing enterprises: the Norwegian Coast Guard, the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries
, and the Norwegian Cooperatives. All fishing vessels in Norwegian waters have to carry with them a log book recording the species, quantity and fishing ground where the fish on board were caught. The fishery cooperatives keep a list of the current catch quantities and the remaining fishing quota for every vessel. All fishes that are landed in Norway have to be sold via the fisheries cooperatives. The catch quantities are checked on landing and both the fisherman and the buyer sign the catch log which confirms that the catch volume was given correctly. The fisheries cooperatives are accountable to the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry & Fisheries which is responsible for this catch log. The fishing quota reports are updated every day. The control system implemented in Norway ensures that the fish sold was caught within the legally permitted scope.

A product in high demand among connoisseurs

Skrei has quality features that with regard to consistency, colouring and flavour are unusual, for example, its firm, pale white meat. There are a couple of reasons for this. During its migration to the spawning grounds on the coast of northern Norway skrei covers more than 1,000 kilometres, of which 600 kilometres is spent along the north Norwegian coast. This leads to a very good muscle tonicity and a firm meat consistency of the finest quality. Along the way the skrei eats very little. This means that its stomach contents are low which has a positive effect on meat texture. In addition, skrei is one of the healthiest whitefish species in the world. One portion of skrei contains the recommended daily intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, plus a lot of good protein, potassium, iodine and sodium, to name but a few.

Skrei is very much in demand both in Norway and in other countries. The traditional way of preparing skrei in Norway is in a dish called “mølje”: The meat, liver and roe of the skrei are poached in lightly salted water in separate pans and then served with boiled potatoes. The aim is to make use of as much of the skrei as possible. The tongue and the cheeks of the skrei are also eaten as a delicacy in Norway but only seldom exported. A further speciality is the skrei’s stomach. It is the Norwegian tradition to turn this inside out and wash it in cold water. After that the stomach is stuffed with liver and chopped onions and seasoned with salt and pepper. It is then either poached separately or together with skrei fillet.

Adapted from Fischmagazin

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