« August 2007 Table of Contents
Top 10 Species: Cod
Embattled species on the comeback trail
By Thyra Porter
August 01, 2007
Cod has become the poster fish for both what is right and
wrong with the fishing industry.
From the overfishing debate to feeding a wide portion of the
world's population, cod tops the menu. While strict quotas are
increasing sustainability of the species, they also fuel price
And with more global quota cuts coming for Atlantic cod this
month, industry watchers are bracing for higher prices this
Cod, a member of the Gadidae family, encompasses Atlantic
cod, Pacific cod, true cod and gray cod, among others. To
chefs, it is known as salt cod, brandade, bacalao, fish sticks,
and fish and chips.
Whatever the name, cod ( Gadus morhua ) has been the
worldwide go-to catch for centuries. It is wildly popular in
Hispanic cultures where salt cod is a staple and was long ago
honored by Massachusetts, which named Atlantic cod the State
Fish. (In tribute, a sculpture of a cod hangs in the
Massachusetts House of Representatives.)
That storied history has earned cod an important place in
today's food culture. From white-tablecloth restaurant to
fast-food joint, cod's popularity has led to overfishing,
especially in New England and Atlantic Canada.
Once so plentiful that boats pulling into harbors in
Newfoundland had to plow through schools of codfish, stocks
became so depleted during the 1980s that the entire fishing
fleet in Canada was shut down.
Overfishing led to government-enforced quotas worldwide
designed to rebuild cod stocks, and those quotas continue to
dictate pricing more than any other factor, says Roger Riggs,
director of commodity sales for Icelandic USA in Newport News,
Riggs notes that a 30 percent cut in the Atlantic cod quota
for the 2007-08 season by the Icelandic government points to
unsettled prices this fall.
"That's a 120-million-pound shortfall, and the price
increases are going to spill over and affect price and demand
of Pacific cod as well, and other whitefish species like
haddock," he says.
Cathy Dupuis, product marketing manager for American
Seafoods Group in Seattle, who buys H&G Pacific cod for
the industrial market, agrees with Riggs.
While she says both inventory and prices have been stable
this spring, "cutbacks in quotas for Atlantic cod will mean
buyers would have to make up shortfalls with Pacific cod" going
forward, Dupuis says. "Any shortened fishing season makes for
"While high prices have softened temporarily, they are here
to stay because there are not enough resources to meet the
demand," Dupuis says.
And despite the expected increases, prices have been falling
recently for fresh cod, according to Ronald Kaplan, VP of Ocean
Fresh Seafood in North Attleboro, Mass., a supplier of fresh
New England, Alaska and Icelandic cod to both foodservice and
After a period of stability, Kaplan says prices spiked for
the fresh catch last winter. However, he adds that prices are
"Today we are buying in the low-$4 range and selling in the
high-$4 range," Kaplan says, noting that prices are down from
the $6-to-$7 per-pound range recorded last winter.
"Prices were tighter then because of the weather. If the
fishermen are out there and it's blowing bad, they can't pull
the lines," he says.
"Now that the weather has improved and more fish are being
brought down from Canada, prices have dropped."
Further complicating matters, as consumers adopt a "green"
outlook, overfishing has also landed Atlantic cod on
environmental watch lists, like the "Eco Worst" list posted on
the Internet by the watchdog group Oceans Alive and the
Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch list, where Atlantic cod
garners an "avoid" rating.
Despite the pressure from quotas and the sustainability
movement, cod remains the eighth most popular fish in the
United States, and has held that position for the past three
years, according to the National Fisheries Institute in McLean,
Overall, U.S. consumers ate 16.5 pounds of fish per person
in 2006, up from 16.2 pounds in 2005. Americans consumed
between 0.5 and 0.6 pounds of cod per capita annually for the
past three years, the NFI reports. Most U.S.-consumed cod is
imported from Norway, Russia, Iceland and Canada.
Cod, with its firm, white flesh, follows other mild-tasting
fish on the NFI list of the most-consumed seafood species in
While in earlier days cod was the most popular whitefish in
the country, it's got competition. Cod placed behind tilapia,
another mild-tasting whitefish, which moved up to the No. 5
position, replacing catfish, which fell to sixth on the
Despite concerns from environmentalists, cod remains among
the most ordered fish on the Legal Sea Foods menu, says Bill
Holler, VP of purchasing and operations for the Boston-based
On a recent menu, baked Boston scrod was topped with
breadcrumbs and tomatoes; cod was also part of a fried
"There is no question as to cod's popularity," Holler says.
"In the Northeast, cod will never go away."
He adds that the cod is on the menu at all 33 Legal Sea
Foods locations, from Massachusetts to Florida. "Everyone asks
for it in our restaurants," he says.
Legal buys fresh Atlantic cod daily at auctions and directly
from fishing boats. And, despite the price fluctuations that
come with quotas, Legal Sea Foods supports sustainability.
"We think cod was overfished but now it is one of the most
heavily regulated fishing industries in the world," he says.
That means Holler is comfortable putting cod on the menu
"With regulations, days-at-sea programs and harvest levels
fixed by the government, fishermen can't even catch as much as
they are allowed to catch," he says. "I am confident that cod
is sustainable and recovering."
Find other SeaFood Business articles with cod here.
Thyra Porter is a freelance writer in Cape Elizabeth,