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Atlantic Cod Notecard



Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua)

A beautiful gray-green fish, the Atlantic Cod has had a greater impact on human history than perhaps any other fish in the world.

The amazing abundance of cod – found off the North American coast from Greenland to North Carolina – proved to be a powerful force of social change. Originally a food for native peoples, cod (and the fishing industry created around them) helped finance the New World colonization efforts of Portugal, France, Spain and England. Some say that the training British soldiers received while fishing for cod in the Americas led to the later dominance of the English Navy as a global power.

Once America and Canada became countries in their own right, cod continued to serve as a cornerstone of their economies. In the late 1700’s, two hundred thousand tons of cod were being caught annually.

Two hundred years later, in the 1960’s, almost two million tons of the fish were being caught each year. These plentiful catches ended abruptly in the 1970’s when, due to overfishing, the cod stocks collapsed. Communities with entire economies based on cod were devastated when the nets began to come up empty. Fishing regulations have been instituted in an effort to help the cod population rebound, and are meeting with success. Canadian cod populations tripled in size between 1976 and 1986. Although cod may never regain their original incredible abundance, they promise to remain among the most important fish species in the North Atlantic.

artwork and text by

Emma Skurnick © 2004