COD FISHERIES of North America lie off the coasts of New England, Newfoundland, and Labrador. The earliest explorers to the northeastern coast of North America noted the abundant presence of the cod. John Cabot spoke of it, and in 1602 Bartholomew Gosnold gave Cape Cod its name because of the great quantity of the fish in its waters. The earliest fishermen came from Spain and France, attracted by the lure of the bank fisheries off the Newfoundland coast. In the sixteenth century, Englishmen made frequent fishing voyages to the Grand Banks.
Captain John Smith's successful fishing venture in 1614 off the New England coast helped to establish the popularity of that region. Within a few years, colonists had established fishing colonies in Massachusetts (Cape Ann) and Maine (Monhegan Island and Pemaquid). Massachusetts Bay colonists in particular engaged in cod fishing from an early date. Within less than forty years after its settlement, Boston was a busy trade center for fish.
England often exasperated the colonies by failing in treaties with France to accord a proper interest to the fisheries. In treaties from that of St. Germain (1632) to Ryswick (1697), the French fisheries benefited. British colonists were particularly bitter in 1697 when England returned Acadia to France. The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) awarded Newfoundland and Nova Scotia (Acadia) to England, but France retained the island of Cape Breton and some fishing privileges.
The final defeat of France in the great colonial struggle with England, concluded by the Treaty of Paris (1763), left France with only the fishing islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon and restricted fishing privileges. The New England cod fisheries expected to benefit by the triumph, but new discontent appeared when the British Parliament passed the Sugar Act of 1764. Its enforcement threatened to ruin the profitable trade with the French West Indies that depended on the exchange of the poorer grade of cod for sugar and molasses, which the North Americans then manufactured into rum. Like the Molasses Act of 1733 this proved in effective, largely because of smuggling.
Cod fishing suffered severely during the American Revolution, but when the United States secured extensive fishing privileges from England in the preliminary Treaty of Paris (1782), expectations for revival soared. The contraction of the market in Catholic Europe and the immediate exclusion of Americans from trade with the British West Indies, however, delayed recovery. Fishing bounties began to be paid in 1789 but did not become a real aid to the fisheries until considerably later.
The Peace of Ghent (1814) did not provide for the continuance of the fishing privileges that Americans had been enjoying in British colonial waters. The Convention of 1818 attempted to settle the fisheries question, but it continued to be a sore spot in British-American relations until the award of the Hague Tribunal of Arbitration in 1910.
After the War of 1812 the cod and mackerel fisheries entered a long period of expansion. The European market for salt cod fish declined, but the expanding domestic market more than offset this loss. The Erie Canal provided access to the Mississippi Valley, and introduction of the use of ice for preservation opened new domestic markets for fresh fish. Tariffs from 1816 to 1846 on imported fish greatly helped New England fishermen to control the home market.
After the Civil War the cod lost its distinction as the principal food fish of the American seas. From about 1885 the cod fisheries began to decline, not only in relation to other American fisheries but also in the amount of tonnage employed. Such cities as Boston and Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine, continued to serve as centers for an industry whose importance in American history is symbolized by Massachusetts' use of the "sacred cod fish" as its emblem. By the end of the twentieth century, however, over fishing, international competition, and declining demand had taken a toll on the American cod industry, whose annual landings averaged 4,100 tons between 1981 and 1997.
Judah, Charles Burnet, Jr. The North American Fisheries and British Policy to 1713. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1933.
Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. New York: Walker, 1997.
Morison, Samuel Eliot. Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783– 1860. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941.
F. HardeeAllen/c. w.
cod / käd/ (also codfish) • n. (pl. same) a large marine fish with a small barbel on the chin. The cod family (Gadidae) comprises many genera and species, in particular the North Atlantic Gadus morhua, of great commercial importance as a food fish and as a source of cod liver oil. cod2 Brit., inf. • adj. not authentic; fake: a cod fax purporting to come from Mr. Aitkin's office. • n. a joke or hoax: I suppose it could all be a cod. • v. (codded , codding ) [tr.] play a joke or trick on (someone): he was definitely codding them.