Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) is a popular seafood favorite here in New England and abroad. A close relative of the cod fish, haddock’s light, flakey fillet lends itself well to nearly any preparation style. This versatile fish is distinguishable from its closely related cousins by a black lateral line that runs down its side. At market, the skin is often left on haddock fillets to establish its authenticity. Other distinguishing marks on this favorite fish include a tall, pointed first dorsal fin, which sits high up on the fish just behind its head, and a black spot above its pectoral fin. This black spot is often referred to as a thumb print from Catholics’ Ash Wednesday or “St. Peter’s mark.” Haddock also tend to be more active than their cod cousins, which some say gives a slightly different texture and quality to their fillets.
Being an authentic New England fish house, Turner’s felt it critical to select a fish for its branding that represented the heritage and authenticity that would define the business and quality of its product — and the haddock became the obvious choice.
Habitat and Behavior
Haddock can be found and are fished commercially and recreationally on both sides of the north Atlantic. The natural habitat of this bottom-dweller ranges from 130 to 146 feet deep, while juvenile haddock prefer shallower water closer to shore. Both juveniles and adults migrate seasonally, following shifting water temperatures with the different seasons of the year. They spawn from January to June each year, with peak spawning periods in early spring. Primary spawning grounds include the waters off Norway and Iceland, as well as Georges Bank. Average-size females normally produce around 850,000 eggs, while larger females can produce up to 3 million eggs in a year.
Here in the northeastern United States and Canada, haddock are fished commercially year-round by trawlers, and longliners. Off the coast of New England, haddock is managed as two distinct stocks — one on the Gulf of Maine and the other on Georges Bank. Fishing quotas for these two stocks are allocated separately, although there has been some speculation in recent years that the two stocks, once thought distinct, intermingle and cross over quite frequently. Close to shore in state waters, haddock fisheries are managed by the individual states. The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries’ recent decision to drop minimum size limits for haddock caught off the shores of Massachusetts was intended to compliment recent changes in federal policy, but has brought some controversy. In federal waters, haddock is managed in coordination with several other groundfish stocks under the Northeast Multispecies Management Plan, which is implemented by the New England Fisheries Management Council. The past few years have seen drastic cuts to haddock and other quotas of key commercial species on both the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. These extreme cuts have forced many of the small-scale independent fishermen who have worked out of ports like Gloucester for generations to put their boats and permits up for sale. As more and more fishermen decide to retire early or find other lines of work, the history, heritage, and culture that make New England’s fishing ports so valuable is being lost permanently. Once gone, it is nearly impossible to replace the infrastructure and knowledge needed to sustain these historic fisheries.
As water temperatures shift in the oceans off our shores, historic populations of haddock and related species seem to be shifting northward to stay with cooler water temperatures. As a result, fisheries off countries to our north like Iceland are thriving as unprecedented large schools of haddock are showing up in their fishing grounds. What’s more, Iceland’s small-scale long-line fishery is one of the most efficient and streamlined around, guaranteeing the highest quality fish for market. As a result of this emphasis on quality and steady supply, Turner’s has been buying haddock regularly this year and plans to continue to partner with seafood dealers in the region so long as their fisheries stay strong.
A popular menu item in seaside restaurants throughout New England, many consumers think that scrod is its own species of fish. However, many of these consumers would be surprised to learn that the term “scrod” was coined as a new method to market and sell small cod, haddock, and other similar whitefish. While the exact origins of this term are unclear, popular culture credits Boston’s Parker House Hotel with the first use of the word. What was once used as a marketing technique to make an old favorite new and exciting has turned into a phrase regularly used but seldom understood in restaurants throughout the region. Often, small cod is referred to as “scrod” while its haddock counterpart is spelled “schrod” to differentiate between the two species.
Haddock’s unparalleled popularity is due mostly to its clean, white, flakey fillets that can be prepared and cooked in virtually any style. A fresh filet will be firm, holding together on its own and slightly translucent — not chalky or opaque. As a rule, haddock does not salt as well as some of its close relatives, but takes well to drying or smoking for preservation.
One of the most popular preparations for haddock on both sides of the Atlantic is the classic fish and chips. Other popular preparations include baking or broiling haddock. A Turner’s favorite, the traditional dish “Finnan Haddie,” takes its name from the town of Finan in Scotland. Originally Finnan Haddie was cold-smoked over peat and often served poached or milked for breakfast. Next time you visit Turner’s in Melrose, be sure to give this classic dish a try and you won’t be disappointed.