History of Cod

Histroy of Cod

Early History of Cod:

Cod has a rich history that is inextricably entwined with human history – cod populations in the ocean were rarely close to human settlements, so it was explorers and travelling races of people that discovered the importance of cod and brought it to the masses as a valuable economic commodity.

As early as 800AD the Vikings were travelling from Norway across the sea to Greenland, Iceland, and even Canada – these routes were directly on huge cod grounds which gave the vikings their supplies and the chance to develop their skills with curing and salting cod. Many of the lands that the Vikings explored were desolate and often barren, with the only hope of getting food would have been to make large expeditions inland on the chance that food and supplies could be found. Cod gave the Vikings the freedom to explore; as early as the time of Erik the Red, Vikings had learnt basic ways to preserve and process cod. One simple way that they perfected was to leave the cod hanging in the cold air until the moisture left the fish and the flesh of the cod became dry and tough. The Vikings could then rip pieces of the flesh off the fish and chew them. This process allowed the Vikings to be be able to explore further afield whilst remaining stocked with food and provisions. It’s probably no coincidence that remains of Viking camps have been found in coastal areas such as Newfoundland and other such places where there were huge cod populations.

The Basques were the next people to form a significant economic relationship with cod. The Basques populated Central and Northen Spain as well as populating parts of Southern France. The Basques were a seafaring people (as well as livestock farmers) and would go on whaling expeditions, as whale meat was a popular food source in Europe in the middle ages, and Basques would exploit this for financial gain and trading opportunities.

Like the Vikings before them, the Basques found ways of curing the cod that they caught by salting the fish – again, like the Vikings, this allowed them to store the cod as a food provision and travel further afield to exploit new fishing grounds. The Basques went on to heavily fish cod and were arguably the first to truly start trading cod at an international level and in new markets far from where cod was naturally found. Coming from the Mediterranean, the Basques had access to plentiful salt reserves (something the Vikings were restricted by) and a more effective heat from the sun to dry the cod (the low fat content of cod also ensured that cod would preserve well and last a long time when salted) and so the new cod trade developed. In addition to this, cod was also a more tasty and satisfying fish to eat due to its superior taste and large flakes of flesh.


Cod and The New World:

In the 1700s and 1800s cod became a major world commodity and one of the rishest populations of cod was found in Newfoundland on the Atlantic coast of Canada, where the Vikings had previously been hundreds of years previoulsy. John Cabot, an explorer under the command of King Henry VII rediscovered Newfoundland in 1497 and reported back that the ocean was so full of cod, that all his men needed to do was to lower buckets over the edge of the ship and simplay scoop the cod out of the water. Cod became a primary food source for the rest of Cabot’s exploration. The waters east of Newfoundland soon became one of the world’s primary fishing grounds for cod and became a key strategic area in developing the fish trade between Europe and North America. Cod fishing quickly established a huge revenue stream for England


The Exploitation of Cod:

As the financial opportunities from cod increased, so did the race to catch greater volumes of cod and the technology and methods for cod fishing progressed rapidly. Steam Trawlers appeared in the early 1900′s and allowed for longer fishing expeditions and the ability to exploit new fishing grounds. Steam ships also usered in the method of trawling – dragging a net behind a moving ship caught far more fish than a stationary net hung over the edge of a ship. Advances were also made in preparing and salting cod whilst out at sea – this enabled the trawlers to stay out at sea for much longer as they were not restricted by bringing their catch back to the harbour before it spoiled. Processing cod also became more efficient with new machinery being developed and introduced that allowed greater quantities of cod to be prepared and sold.

In the 1950s ‘Rockhopper’ nets were introduced to trawlers. Rockhoppers nets were traditionally used to gather prawns, lobsters, and other bottom dwelling creatures. The rockhopper net is designed to be dragged along the bottom of the seabed without getting snagged on uneven surfaces like rocks – applying this on a large scale to trawlers allowed far more cod (a bottom dwelling fish) to be caught. Aftre the second world war, the use of sonar was introduced to fishing trawlers allowing fishermen to pinpoint large schools of cod, and focus their efforts on the dense populations. Rockhopper nets have the added effect of destroying the sea-bed where they have been dragged, which can take many years to recover.


Overfishing of cod, and current dangers:

In the 20th century cod fishing had been so widespread and ruthlessly effective that cod stocks became massively depeleted. Iceland became active in cod fishing once again and started to try and exclusively fish cod stocks in its waters, this led to the ‘Cod Wars’ of the 1970′s where the Royal Navy had to intervene to protect British trawlers during fishing expeditions (find out more about the Cod Wars). In 1992 the Canadian government declared a halt on cod fishing due to stocks being dangerously low and by 1993 all cod fishing was banned. Cod fishing was eventually re-introduced shortly afterwards the ban, but it was subject to strict limits abd quotas on catch sizes.

It has been estimatd that cod populations for the Atlantic cod are only one percent of what they were in the late 1970s. Recent statistics published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) stated that the cod stock in the North Sea is at high risk of collapse and that the populations are so low they are below safe biological limits. The Pacific cod fishery is reported to be successfully managed with healthy stocks – but catches are strictly monitored and any fishery found exceeding the permitted catch quotas are closed. The 2006 Northwest Atlantic cod quota is set at 23,000 tons representing half the available stocks, while it is set to 473,000 tons for the Northeast Atlantic cod.

The management of cod stocks, and the attempt to foster the recovery of cod populations has caused backlash as tight quotas can cause job losses and damage the economy of the fishing industry.