Cod is a universally prized food and the go-to whitefish for many consumers and cuisines around the world, with its snow-white, pearlescent flesh and gentle flavour proving particularly appealing for many centuries. Indeed, it’s believed to have been a component of the European diet since the Stone Age.
Due to cod’s extraordinary appeal, it has long been an important internationally traded food product. There are two main species available to markets: Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), which is found in plentiful volumes in the cold, deep waters of the North Atlantic; and Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus), which are in good abundance in Alaska and Russian waters.
Found mostly on rocky, pebbly, sandy or gravelly sea beds, the Atlantic variety is harvested with bottom trawls, gillnets, longlines and hook and line on both sides of the North Atlantic, while Pacific cod is taken by trawls, longlines and pots.
Pittman Seafoods’ Atlantic cod is mainly sourced from Russia, Norway and Iceland, and its Pacific cod is line-caught.
While closely related, there are subtle differences between the two cods. In terms of appearance, the Atlantics vary in colour from green-grey to red-brown and are typically larger in size (average 5-12kg) than their Pacific cousins (average 2-6kg), which are darker in colour.
In flavour terms, Atlantic cod has a slightly sweet taste, together with large flakes that fall apart easily when cooked, whereas Pacific cod has a milder, more savoury flavour profile that’s accompanied by firmer, chunkier flakes. Preference is very much down to consumers’ personal tastes, and both contribute to a healthy diet – providing a good source of protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, whilst also being low in calories.
The world’s main cod stocks are regarded as being very 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.
The longstanding Joint Russian-Norwegian Fisheries Commission coordinates similar dynamic management with regards to catches in the North-East Arctic. This region, particularly thanks to the prolific Barents Sea grounds, provides a large proportion of the world’s Atlantic cod with the quotas, usually 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 at its most intense in the first-half of the year, while the peak season for the Alaska cod fishery is in the autumn/winter months.
These and other important cod fisheries are certified according to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainability standards.
All together, the Atlantic cod fisheries are expected to provide a harvest of approximately one million tonnes for 2018/19. This is in line with quota reductions placed on the Barents, Baltic and North Seas, while Iceland’s catch limit has been increased. At the same time, the total Pacific cod catch for 2018 will decline to around 300,000 tonnes.
Aligned with the inherent high demand for the fish, these reductions could result in increased prices in future months.