Hull and Distant Water Fishing, Part Five: Cod Today

Before you set foot onto the deck of the Kingston Jet, the James Joyce, and the Arctic Kestrel Museum in our North American Premiere of Under the Whaleback, check out this five-part series by Dramaturg Walter Bilderback about the rich history, maritime culture, and world-wide impact of Cod Fishing.

Cod Today

In 1994, Canada close the Grand Banks to fishing. The Gulf of Maine and Georges Banks, off the U.S. coast were similarly closed, and have been gradually re-opened. Britain is now a part of the European Union, which means even the North Sea and Irish Sea are commonly fished, with each nation having a quota of the fish they can catch. The center of British fishing has moved north, to Peterhead, Scotland, where the fuel costs to the Orkney and Shetland Islands are much lower than from Hull.

Cod are still being caught, but in much smaller numbers and, perhaps more significant, much smaller sizes. Paul Greenberg's Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food (2010) has a chapter on cod, updating Mark Kurlansky on the state of the American fishing grounds and attempts to farm cod, as salmon and sea bass are being farmed. The prospects don't seem good; in fact, a few days before rehearsals for Under the Whaleback began, the New York Times ran an article that the New England Fishery Management Council had "voted to recommend reductions of 77 percent from last year's catch for each of the next three years for cod in the Gulf of Maine," the healthiest of fishing grounds when Greenberg published his books.

In the North Sea, the Guardian newspaper last year reported that there were estimated to be only 300 cod over 13 years old (cod can live 25 years), with the vast majority of cod under three years old. This not only means the remaining cod are smaller; cod don't reach sexual maturity until they're four, and they become more fertile as they get older. In the North Sea as well, quotas are being reduced, to 26,000 tons a year: less than some of the Hull sidewinders could catch in three trips to Iceland.

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