«Cod» by Mark Kurlansky


“Cod” by Mark Kurlansky is a story about the enormous impact and influence the cod fishing has had on in the course of human history. Kurlansky observes that, codfish played a key role in the social-economical development of a number of countries and communities in the medieval era. To drive his point home, the author uses real life experiences of various cod fishing entities that have come out and disappeared over the course of history. Here, he tells us that, ever since mankind went to the sea, battles over fishing territories and policies have been major conflicts elements in the cod fishing industry. In this book he maps out these conflicts via a brief history of experiences that are very easy to read and to understand.


In this exciting history of a millennium -year extravaganza, Kurlansky outlines the links between cod fishing industry and past eras and experiences such as medieval Christian observances, the war between Germans and Britons over Icelandic cod, slavery, trade and decline of the roman empire as well as the development of complicated fishing industry in England. The writer links this account in an interesting style while offering perfect scientific ideas. But the account have tragic ending. There are serious troubles in the cod fishing industry since the Atlantic fish has been overharvested near death. The author observes that the chases of revival of the code fish populace are very slim. He thus states,

“There is only one known calculation: ‘When you get to zero, it will produce zero.'” (Kurlansky 234).

The current technological advances have helped in producing very effective and efficient fishing techniques that have led depletion of cod fish population in Atlantic waters. This is because a number of the fishing approaches already in use usually fish both mature and young cod fishes together with their eggs and thus limiting their chances of increasing their populations.

Kurlansky use of individual quotes code recipes gathered from slaves, emperors, envoys and a renowned scholar, Thoreau to shed light on how the cod fishing was very important to the society. He tells us that, in the course of history battles have been waged, revolts have been staged, diets have been founded and economies established as result of the cod (Kurlansky 89). He further observes that the main reason why Europeans set to navigate across the Atlantic was because of their search for cod. At that time, cod had essentially become the staple food for the Vikings in the icy Greenland. The Vikings froze and dried the cod and then broke it into small pieces and was consumed as hardtack. The cod was staple diet for medieval societies whereby Basques traded salted cod.

Cod started with the strange medieval supply of a fish known as the codfish in the fish harvesting boats of the Basque who were also unfamiliar. The Codfish was at times fished nearer to the continent, but it was not in such big quantities as the Basque’s dealers supplied.

Some chritistian observances such of those of the Catholics provided the Basques with the opportunity of making money. The Catholic Church enforced fast days whereby sex and consumption of meat were prohibited, however consumption of frozen foods was allowed. In regard to observation of the fasting there were more days in a year in which Catholics were eating salt cod in the year. As a result, the key suppliers of the cod, the Basques took this as an opportunity for selling their cod to Catholics. But nobody knew where the Basques were getting their cod supplies as they kept this as a top secret.

To uncover source of the Basques’ cod supplies become a key objective to many traders’ adventures. And in late 15th century as a result of a victorious endeavor by the hanseatic club to prevent Britons from Icelandic cod, the league discovered an island in the Atlantic waters by the name Hy-Brasil which was thought to be source of Basques’ codfish. The league found a considerable quantity (however they kept it as a secret) and such the league was not happy with the Hanseatics attempts to discuss trade with Iceland (Kurlansky 213).

Kurlansky also tells us that, there were other explorers who said that some territories in the new World were for some governments. One of such explorers was John Cabot who claimed that New Found Land was for Henry VII. Cabot said that New Found Land was part of the King Henry VII coastal territory and that it was fit for drying codfish fished from the sea. The other explorer was the Jacques Cartier who was associated with the invention of the island of St. Lawrence and who said that the Gaspé Peninsula belonged to France. Cartier identified over one thousand Basque fishing boats already in the shore however the Basque denied them in their efforts to keep the secret of their source of cod.

The author provides us with the reason why cod fish population which its supply was once believed to be limited have declined so significantly. In the late 19th century some scholars questioned why codfish population which was once inexhaustible had declined so rapidly. Kurlansky observes that, the cod fishing industry is truly threatened. The codfish population is rapidly decreasing in the Atlantic waters.

Even the societies who built their economies with the help of cod fishing industry have a hard time caring their diminishing codfish stock. The rapid technological advances are changing fishing into fish harvesting and the traditional practice of drying fish as turned into freezing them in the fishing vessels. These approaches to fishing have led to overfishing which has contributed to rapid depletion of codfish population in the Atlantic waters.

If we want to restore codfish population, It now than ever before, that we embrace fishing approaches that encourage growth of fish population in these waters. One of such technologies is developing fish pods that can allow reproduction fish lets. Otherwise, the current trends in the fishing industry continue, may result to a worse situation than what we are experiencing at the moment.


In a nut shell, codfish was very important in the course of mankind history than all other types of fish. The cod was attributed to invention of N. America. Cod also was associated with significant effect on the social-economic development of England and E. Canada since the time immemorial. However, in the contemporary world overfishing is becoming a threat to cod. Without question, Cod by Kurlansky is a fascinating adventure of past with all its advancement forces. Cod can also be said to be an awful story of environmental collapse, of diminished fishing quantities where once the codfish’s population were famous.

Works Cited

Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. London: Penguin, 1998.

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