Know your seafood: North Atlantic Cod


An iconic part of Massachusetts’ history and culture, north Atlantic cod has shaped the economy of this region for centuries.  Looking back even further, cod has been an essential food source for human survival since the time of the vikings, with the earliest accounts of the fish’s value as a dietary staple dating to 985 A.D. In fact, the vikings reported that cod was so plentiful at that time that they could have walked across the ocean on it.  Sadly, thousands of years of evolving fisheries have left this iconic species at what some are claiming is an all-time low.

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) is a benthopelagic fish that can be found ranging from North Carolina all the way up to the shores off Greenland. On the eastern side of the Atlantic, this species can also be found from the Bay of Biscay and north into parts of the Arctic ocean. Atlantic cod’s distinctive brown-green coloration, spotted pattern, and clearly visible lateral line make it easy to tell apart from other ground fish from the same region.  They can grow to be as large as two meters (and an impressive 212 lbs!) and tend to be lazy, floating around with currents near the ocean bottom- often in large schools. They live on all types of ocean bottom, including mud, rocks, and sand.  Western Atlantic cod reaches reproductive maturity at about two years of age, whereas eastern Atlantic cod can take much longer to develop- as much as eight years. Once they reach spawning age, they will only reproduce in very specific water temperatures, which greatly influences their distribution throughout the environment. Cod live relatively long lives- the average being about 13 years but with some aging beyond twenty years of age. Considered apex predators in this region, cod have been known to  feed on everything from other groundfish, mackerel, herring, crustaceans, juvenile cod, and even a stray soda can from time to time.

Atlantic cod are fished and caught using many different methods including otter trawl nets, gillnets, traps, long lines, and rod & reel fishing.  One of the most famous cod fisheries is based locally here in Gloucester, MA- due to it’s proximity to the rich fishing grounds of Stellwagen and Georges Banks.

The dietary and economic significance of this fish simply cannot be overstated. Over the coming weeks, a series of posts will highlight the historic and cultural significance of this key local fish stock.  In addition, we will also highlight some of the recent changes and developments that have arisen in the local fishery in regards to local cod stocks.

Check back for more info on this local favorite!