Posts Tagged ‘Basque fishermen’

The Humble Cod has a Colourful History

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

To most people the humble cod is the primary ingredient of Birds Eye Fish Fingers, or comes battered as a constituent of the “one and one” that they have just purchased from the local chipper on the way home from the pub. Little do they know that this big headed, barbuled chinned, coloured a mottled olive green/brown/red, white bellied, much loved fish has most definitely played a major role in the historical development of western society both in Europe and America.

COD, by Mark Kurlansky, a must read for all those who are interested in the marine environment.

Cod was one of, if not the main source of protein for most western and central European nations from the middle ages right into the 19th century. In the Middle Ages dried cod or stock fish as it was known underwrote economies, it predated the gold standard. Basque fishermen from northern Spain crossed the Atlantic to their “secret fishing grounds” off Newfoundland long before Christopher Columbus claimed he had found the New World, and returned with their holds filled with dried and salt cod.

Cod enriched the Pilgrim Fathers who settled on the eastern shores of that mighty continent we now call the USA, to the point where they no longer needed support from their mother nation England. Cod enabled them to become financially independent with the potential to outstrip the burgeoning economy of their home country. Tied to a set of ground rules, one of which was that they could only trade with England, the first settlers sought independence which was refused so kick starting the American Revolution.

All these little gems and more are expanded upon in a wonderful book simply titled “COD” by Mark Kurlansky, first published in 1997 the author charts in vivid style how prolific the species was and sadly after 600 plus years of human exploitation how humanity has mined the North Atlantic cod to economic extinction. No longer do they swim in vast shoals across the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and closer to home reside, coloured red due to the kelp and diet of crab, on the Moulditch bank off Greystones, Co. Wicklow, mans ignorance and greed has seen to that.

Today however, due to some minor miracle or quirk of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, certainly in my opinion not a result of  good fisheries management, cod are swimming again in reasonable numbers off Ireland’s south coast. Averaging 2/3 lbs in weight, on certain tides they are coming within casting range of shore anglers fishing beaches, piers, estuaries, and headlands from Wexford to Cork. Fishing into the dark using lugworm or peeler crab for bait, rod tops have been nodding and for the lucky few who are putting the time in some fine catches have been made. Yours truly has made a number of trips to various locations since early November, enjoying some excellent results in the process, culminating in the freshest battered cod and chips that I have had in years. On form the cod will stay around until January, get out and cast a line while the going is good….