In July of 1992 the Canadian government closed the Atlantic Cod Fishery. This moratorium was meant to be in place for only two years but 25 years later, the moratorium stands and the fishery is still closed. This fishery not only brought affordable seafood to the masses, but it provided 40,000 jobs to families who had been fishing for generations.
Cod by Mark Kurplansky is a book that highlights how one natural resource has altered and continued to affect humanity since its discovery. The author tells a tale of cod as much more than a food source. It is positioned as a global economic powerhouse that helped shape the world we live in today by fueling the influencing powers of the past.
Although this book is quite short, a whopping 223 pages, I find it difficult to summarize because it is so full of information. From facts and personal accounts to historical maps and ancient cod recipes, this book is definitely a must for anyone interested in food and fish. So rather than attempting to provide an impossible summary for the journey of this resource from discovery to collapse, I would like to tell you about my perspective on the cod collapse in the hopes of enticing you to cozy up to this wonderful read.
Back when I was completing my undergraduate degree I took a resource management course and one of the case studies that I first explored was the collapse of the Atlantic cod fishery. In my ignorance I was so shocked that the mis-management of a major resource could occur so recently and did so right here on Canadian shores. I also immediately read Cod. This case study and book is actually what led me down the path to do my masters research in the sustainable seafood movement. I felt that an issue as monumental as global fisheries management could not be left solely to one actor, government, to address. I wanted to be part of a movement that supported and promoted sustainability from all angles and includes not only management from the top but consumer interest from the bottom and along every point in the supply chain. It is also this journey which led me to become a Coordinator in the Ocean Wise seafood program and be an active member in this movement.
More personally, as a Brazilian, cod plays an integral role in a lot of the cuisine that we eat due to our colonization by the Portuguese. Salted cod, or as we call it bacalhau, is served as the fish itself, mixed into seafood balls, bolinho de bacalahau, and added to a large assortment of dishes. As a major staple, and often served at celebrations, cod serves as a reminder to me that culture and ecological limitations do not always see eye to eye. It is this intense love of cod and its familiarity as a dish to so many cultures that ultimately led to its demise as illustrated in this book and the many recipes included from all over the world.
Although there are other healthy cod stocks in the world (fish is tricky!), I can’t help but skip the cod dishes at family gatherings because I often don’t know where the cod has come from. But when I do prepare cod myself, I always make sure to figure out if it comes from a healthy stock and harvested using less intensive fishing methods such as bottom longline or hand line before purchasing. Not sure how to figure that one out? Seafood is the most complicated food system on the planet so if you are unsure, I am not surprised. Just look for the Ocean Wise seafood symbol on the seafood you are purchasing or ask your local fishmonger where it comes from and how it is harvested. If they don’t know, I would suggest not purchasing it. Together we can all work towards ensuring that fisheries no longer collapse by supporting healthy fisheries and proper management to maintain healthy populations.
Now go read Cod. This book inspired my career choice and maybe it will also inspire you.
Aquablog by Isabella Sulpizio, Coordinator for the Ocean Wise seafood program
Overfishing is a major threat to our oceans. With thousands of Ocean Wise seafood partner locations across Canada, Ocean Wise makes it easy for consumers to choose sustainable seafood for the long-term health of our oceans. The Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item is our assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice. www.ocean.org/seafood