Monday, August 23, 2010

Location and the Atlantic cod

From VectorOne

Few fish are as well-known and rich in his­tory as the cod. For cen­turies the species has played a unique role in trade through­out the world. Places like Penob­scot Bay, La Rochelle, Southamp­ton, New­found­land, Dutch West Indies, Ice­land and Nor­way have all been affected by the cod fishery.

The Basque region were unique among cod fish­ery, report­edly fish­ing the Atlantic far and wide, avoid­ing British ships cen­turies ago as the Basques main­tained secrecy about the rich loca­tions where abun­dant fish could be found. These peo­ple, along with the Por­tugese, have even been reported to have dis­cov­ered regions of east­ern Canada, long before Jacques Cartier of France dis­cov­ered the region — along with John Cabot.

New Englander’s owe much of their flour­ish­ing trade in ear­lier times to the cod fish­ery, where the lengths of these fish were equal to the size of man at one time. Spawn­ing nearly 10 mil­lion eggs per fish in some cases, salt-laden cod ships filled the ports of Ply­mouth and Southamp­ton, later to be traded through­out the Mediter­ranean. Indeed, those places on a UK map today bear­ing an end­ing ‘wich’ — lit­er­ally mean­ing place of salt, were known for their salted cod. Though north­ern­ers and those of Scot­land may have pre­ferred had­dock in its place when it come to ‘fish and chips’ — similar to the Nova Scotians.

The French and the British wagered cod trade and barter along the east coast of North Amer­ica, finally result­ing in the French being left with the islands of San Pierre and Miquelon in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, that remains to this day. And no less than George Wash­ing­ton him­self included cod as part of his elec­tion cam­paign funding.

Found through the Atlantic Ocean, fish­er­men from Ice­land ven­tured to Green­land in search of cod, mak­ing maps of the fjords there — Gud­bran­dur Thor­laks­son mak­ing maps in 1606. A vast North Euro­pean net­work once formed, called the Hanseatic League, who con­trolled the salt fish trade — later los­ing strength due to the vast rich­ness of the North Amer­i­can fish trade.

The ocean tem­per­a­tures at which the species eggs hatch impacts sur­vival rates and the loca­tions of spawn­ing fish. Today, spec­u­la­tion con­tin­ues on their declin­ing pop­u­la­tion, includ­ing ocean tem­per­a­tures, over-fishing and ecosys­tem changes.

The story of the cod pro­vides valu­able insight into how impor­tant food is to trade and the move­ment of peo­ple and their sur­vival. After all, even the Pil­grims arrived in North Amer­ica inca­pable of fish­ing and know­ing lit­tle about farm pro­duc­tion. Worse, they did not like native foods. Ulti­mately, they returned to Eng­land to learn cod fish­ing before once again sail­ing to North Amer­ica to begin liv­ing more per­ma­nently — and successfully.

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