Prized for its snow-white, pearlescent flesh and gentle but distinctive flavour, cod has long been the fish of choice for consumers the world over and the benchmark by which most other whitefish is compared.
Know your cod: Atlantic versus Pacific
Because of its huge culinary appeal, cod has been one of the most important, internationally traded food products for many centuries.
There are two main species available to the market:
1. Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), found in large volumes in the cold, deep waters of the North Atlantic.
2. Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus), found in particularly rich abundance in Alaska.
Taste and appearance
While closely related, there are subtle differences between the two. In terms of appearance, Atlantic cod varies in colour from green-grey to red-brown and are typically larger in size (average 5-12kg) than Pacific cod (average 2-6kg), which are darker in colour.
In flavour terms, it’s widely agreed that Atlantic cod has a slightly sweet taste, with large flakes that fall apart easily when cooked. Pacific cod has a milder, more savoury flavour profile accompanied by firmer, chunkier flakes. Preference is very much down to consumers’ personal tastes.
How stock is managed
As is appropriate with such a popular species, the main cod stocks are extremely well managed with fishermen proactively adhering to best practice.
In Alaska, for example, where two-thirds of all Pacific cod are landed, the species is managed under two Fishery Management Plans – one for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands region and the other for the Gulf of Alaska region.
These plans control the fishery through permits and limited entry, catch quotas, gear restrictions, closed waters, seasons, by-catch limits and other measures.
North-east arctic management
The longstanding Joint-Norwegian Fisheries Commission coordinates similar dynamic management with regards to catches in the North-East Arctic.
This region provides a large proportion of the world’s Atlantic cod, in part thanks to the prolific Barents Sea grounds. Here quotas are set in line with the annual scientific catch recommendations issued by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).
The North-East Arctic cod fishery is conducted year round but is most intense in the first half of the year, while the peak season for the Alaska cod fishery is autumn and winter.
It should also be noted that these and other important cod fisheries are certified according to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainability standards and there are currently four further Atlantic fisheries currently undergoing assessment.
Future outlook for harvests
Combined, Atlantic cod harvests are expected to climb slightly to 1.356 million metric tons (MT) this year from 1.349 million MT in 2013. This industry forecast is in line with Iceland’s increased quota and small quota cuts for both Norway and Russia. Meanwhile, it’s projected that the total Pacific cod catch will remain steady at about 462,000 MT.
With the promise of such bonanza supplies, 2014 should be another memorable year for cod lovers everywhere.