Cod Book Summary By Mark Kurlansky

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Cod (1997) is an insightful book that charts the story of the codfish.

A major commodity in Europe at one point, it became a world-changing force, leading to national conflicts and even coming dangerously close to extinction due to overfishing.

The book takes readers on a journey through this fascinating creature's history, from its rise and fall in popularity to its current precarious state.

With vivid description and engaging storytelling, Cod paints an unforgettable picture of how one species has impacted our planet - for better or worse.

Cod Book Summary

Book Name: Cod (A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World)

Author(s): Mark Kurlansky

Rating: 4.3/5

Reading Time: 14 Minutes

Categories: Nature & the Environment

Author Bio

Mark Kurlansky is a renowned American author and journalist whose works have been translated into 15 different languages.

He is well-known for his international bestseller, Cod, which examines the complex relationship between humans and fish and our dependence on it.

Other than Cod, Mark has written many other notable works such as Salt, which explores the importance of salt throughout history, as well as World Without Fish - a book that focuses on global fish decline and the implications of overfishing.

These works of Mark's have demonstrated his expertise in diverse topics, making him one of the most appreciated authors in today's society.

The Story Of Cod: How Salt, Religion, And Political Will Shaped A Fish’S Fate


If you’re looking for a fascinating story about one of nature’s most humble creatures, look no further than the cod.

Native to the Atlantic Ocean, the cod can measure up to two meters in length and weigh as much as 100 kilograms (nowadays, this largely unseen fish is usually served as fillets in fancy restaurants).

Once abundant, though now almost extinct, what makes the cod’s history so special?

For starters, cod provided people with sustenance during some of humankind’s longest sea journeys imaginable.

It also had a significant role for the Catholic Church and its laws were even changed to protect this valuable resource.

So if you want to learn about how modernization has negative effects on ecology and society all centered around one itsy-bitsy fish – get hooked on cod!

The Basques Keep Alive A Centuries-Old Secret For Fishing And Selling Salted Codfish

The Basque people were the first to introduce North American cod to Europe, setting sail for what is now northwest Spain in search of whale meat that was in high demand.

Along the way, they discovered cod and began curing it with salt, providing themselves with food that could last longer and taste better than its Scandinavian and Icelandic counterparts.

They returned home with their bounty, selling salted codfish to Catholics who weren’t allowed to eat meat during days of fasting according to church doctrine.

Thanks to their unique technique, the Basques had a distinct advantage over anyone else, resulting in a profitable venture for them and plentiful sustenance for Europeans.

The Basques managed to keep their successful cod-catching operations a secret for some time until word ultimately got out.

As soon as this happened, conflict began brewing over control of one of Europe’s most coveted resources – North American cod.

From Unknown Secret To Power Struggle: How The Basque Cod Revealed Changed The Course Of History

Power Struggle

The desire for cod led to numerous conflicts in both the old and the new world, beginning with the sixteenth century discovery of Newfoundland.

The French, Portuguese, British and Spanish all wanted a share of the cod supply, creating an immense demand that could only be satisfied by forming alliances.

As such, the British and Portuguese joined forces in order to obtain salt which was necessary for preserving fish; however, this relationship soon fizzled out when the Portuguese teamed up with Spain.

This rivalry between Britain and Portugal spilled over into disputes between England’s colonies in New England who began trading independently with Europe and other European colonies such as Newfoundland and becoming threateningly rich.

In consequence, this opposition further emphasized and advanced tension leading to the American Revolution.

Consequently, after dissolution from Britain, bickering over fishing rights began until finally settling with the British gaining exclusive fishing rights for Canada’s Grand Banks.

Alas, due to advancing technology fueling chasing techniques leading to rapidly depleting stock of cod which nullified presumptions of its lasting abundance.

Longlining: The 19Th Century Invention That Ignited The Overfishing Crisis

The invention of longline fishing in the nineteenth century revolutionized the fishing industry, tremendously increasing production.

With this method, a small boat called a dory drops a long line into the water with lanyards filled with hooks at three-foot intervals.

This was great because it allowed fishermen to find abundant fish species in places like the Canadian coast where there were lots of them.

It also made it easier for the French government to offer incentives by paying ten francs for every 65 fish caught.

Unfortunately, unregulated use of this technique also caused overfishing and endangered various species of cod fish.

Despite warnings from countries like Iceland calling attention to this problem, it wasn’t until 1989 when regulators realized that there was an unsustainable amount being caught each year.

Statements such as British scientific philosopher Thomas Henry Huxley’s declaring fears about overfishing as ‘unscientific and misguided’ further delayed recognition of the issue.

In summary, while the invention of longline fishing increased production levels significantly, its overexploitation lead to endangered cod species which could have been avoided if proper regulations had been set up earlier.

Clarence Birdseye’S Discovery Of Freezing Led To A Boom In The Fishing Industry

Clarence Birdseye'S

The invention of the steam engine and frozen food revolutionized industrial fishing forever.

In the 19th century, European waters were already depleted and tough to fish, so Europeans took to testing their steam-powered boats in an attempt to make fishing more effective.

The result? The otter trawl – a technique which involves dragging a massive net behind a boat to catch as many fish as possible.

With more power came bigger catches; up to six times what could be caught with previous methods.

But how would they get all these fish back in good condition to market? Enter Clarence Birdseye, an New Yorker who moved to Labrador where he experimented with freezing vegetables, allowing them to remain edible during harsh winters.

His discovery caught the attention of the cod fishing industry who found that it was the perfect way for keeping their produce fresh.

Thanks to Birdseyes’ invention, coupled with the industrial advances of steam power and freezing food, cod fishers were afforded an opportunity that had never been seen before – utilizing massive nets and being able to transport safe, fresh food too distant markets!

Iceland Fought To Protect Cod From Overfishing By Establishing Limits On Fishing Areas

When the British discovered that the North Sea had been depleted of cod, they turned their attention to Icelandic waters.

This is where Iceland’s battle to protect their fish from overfishing began.

Taking advantage of Iceland’s traditional fishing methods to guarantee a healthy supply of fish, the British brought with them modern fishing techniques and an entrepreneurial class.

It was soon realized that this could cause serious damage if it went unchecked – putting both the Icelandic territory and its industries in jeopardy.

In order to protect their cod stocks and maintain the industry on which many people rely, Iceland fought for territorial expansion beyond just three miles— all the way up to 200 miles!

This effort sparked intense disputes between Iceland and Britain in what would become known as the Cod Wars.

But finally, in the end, Britain was forced to accept this new limit and a healthy supply of cod is maintained today as a result!

The Canadian Cod Tragedy: A Cautionary Tale Of Overfishing And Refusal To Accept Responsibility


North American cod has become a scarce resource due to years of overfishing and mismanagement.

Countries like Canada have felt the effects of this problem especially hard, leading to a moratorium on cod fishing in 1992.

This decision effectively closed all cod fisheries in Canada except for one in south-western Nova Scotia and placed strict quotas on all other ground fish.

The effects of this moratorium have been both positive and negative: while it may have helped save the Canadian cod from extinction, it also made the fish commercially unattractive, which has had disastrous consequences for fishermen and those dependent on the industry.

Despite this, there is still hope that the cod will come back someday — but for now, humans bear responsibility for what happened and must take measures to get the fish back.

Wrap Up

In summary, Cod by Mark Kurlansky is an enlightening tale of how a valuable resource, the cod, has shaped history and humanity as a whole.

Through this story we learn how humans can mismanage natural resources, depleting them to dangerously low levels.

But we also learn what can be done to fix our mistakes and better protect these resources.

Iceland provides an inspiring example of how taking real measures — such as imposing fishing regulations — can help enhance preservation efforts.

The book serves as a reminder that it’s never too late to re-evaluate our practices and take the steps needed to create liveable ecosystems for generations to come.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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