The Marine Life Information Network

Information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles


Saithe (Pollachius virens)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



The saithe or coalfish Pollachius virens is a member of the pollack family. It can reach 1.2 m in length. It has three dorsal and two anal fins. It has a straight lateral line, which is light in colour. The back and sides are usually dusky greenish-brown in colour and the belly is silvery white. The upper and lower jaws are approximately equal in length.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Found throughout the British Isles and Ireland. More common off the north-west coasts of Scotland and Ireland.

Global distribution



The saithe is a benthopelagic species; an active, gregarious fish occurring both inshore and offshore. It usually enters coastal waters in spring and returns to deeper waters (up to 350 m) in winter

Depth range

up to 350

Identifying features

  • Compressed body up to 1.2 m in length.
  • Dusky greenish-brown dorsal colouring, silvery white ventrally.
  • Three dorsal fins and two anal fins.
  • Straight, smooth, light-coloured lateral line.
  • Shallowly forked tail fin.
  • The chin barbel is absent.

Additional information

Saithe is a highly valued commercial species for human consumption. To maintain sustainable saithe fisheries and create a greater potential yield, the EU and Norway have agreed on a precautionary approach. The stock is now managed by annual TACs (total allowable catch) and a minimum mesh size for several types of fishing gear limits the bycatch of smaller individuals. Unlike the pollack Pollachius pollachius, it has a straight lateral line, which is light in colour.

Listed by


  1. Cargnelli, L., Griesbach, S., Packer, D., Berrien, P., Johnson, D. & Morse, W., 1999e. Pollock, Pollachius virens, life history and habitat characteristics. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE-131. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1-30 pp. Available from


  2. Cohen, D.M., Inada, T., Iwamoto, T. & Scialabba, N., 1990. FAO species catalogue. Vol. 10. Gadiform Fishes of the World. An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Cods, Hakes, Grenadiers and Other Gadiform Fishes Known to Date. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Fisheries Synopsies, 125

  3. Frimodt, C., 1995. Multilingual illustrated guide to the world's commercial coldwater fish. Fishing News Books, Osney Mead, Oxford, England.

  4. Froese, R. & Pauly, D., 2007. Fishbase. A global information system on fishes. [On-line], 2008-02-18

  5. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  6. Picton, B.E. & Costello, M.J., 1998. BioMar biotope viewer: a guide to marine habitats, fauna and flora of Britain and Ireland. [CD-ROM] Environmental Sciences Unit, Trinity College, Dublin.


  1. Centre for Environmental Data and Recording, 2018. Ulster Museum Marine Surveys of Northern Ireland Coastal Waters. Occurrence dataset accessed via on 2018-09-25.

  2. Environmental Records Information Centre North East, 2018. ERIC NE Combined dataset to 2017. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-38

  3. Fife Nature Records Centre, 2018. St Andrews BioBlitz 2014. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  4. Fife Nature Records Centre, 2018. St Andrews BioBlitz 2015. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  5. Fife Nature Records Centre, 2018. St Andrews BioBlitz 2016. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  6. Isle of Wight Local Records Centre, 2017. IOW Natural History & Archaeological Society Marine Records. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  7. Manx Biological Recording Partnership, 2017. Isle of Man wildlife records from 01/01/2000 to 13/02/2017. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  8. Manx Biological Recording Partnership, 2018. Isle of Man historical wildlife records 1990 to 1994. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  9. National Trust, 2017. National Trust Species Records. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  10. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from:

  11. North East Scotland Biological Records Centre, 2017. NE Scotland fish records 1800-2010. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  12. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2023. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2023-06-03


This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Pollachius virens Saithe. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 03-06-2023]. Available from:

Last Updated: 22/05/2008