4.07.2011

The Local Food Report: live cod

Imagine, just for a second, that you're a cod fisherman. You longline, which means you set a line with a series of baited hooks and send it down with an anchor, and then later, come back to pull it up.


Usually, the fish come in through a roller, fall to the deck, and then you process them by slitting their throats, cutting out their guts, rinsing them, and packing them on ice. You get about $2 a pound.

But if you take a little more time—if you unhook the fish and put them in a tank and keep them alive—you can get $3 a pound. Sound smart? It is.

This is the system fishermen Eric Hesse and Greg Walinski of Sesuit Harbor in Dennis have set up with a Boston company called Wong Trading. Wong Trading distributes to Asian restaurants—mostly chefs in Boston's Chinatown—and these chefs like their fish still swimming. Hesse says it's a cultural thing—they think the fish have a subtler taste when they're served just-gutted, and they're willing to pay for it.

Hesse and Walinski fish on a quota system, which counts the pounds of fish they catch, not the pounds of fish they sell. So if they can sell the whole fish—gutted, on average, a fish usually weighs about 17 percent less—they're making that much more money on their quota. What's more, the chefs like the smaller, single-serving-size fish, which are exactly the ones the regular fillet market doesn't want.


It can be tricky—unhooking fish at night, for instance, is a challenge, as is keeping an eye on hundreds of pounds of live cod—but all in all, it's a pretty cool system. Here's to the ingenuity of our fishermen!

3 comments :

Jess said...

This is interesting. I'm reading "Cod" by Mark Kurlansky and didn't realize how integral cod was to American (and world) history!

Againstthegrain said...

I LOVED Kurlansky's book, Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the world! My husband read it on my recommendation; he loved it, too. Cod filled in a lot of gaps in my American history education. More inportantly, Cod underscored how critically important it is to sustainably harvest fish from the oceans. The industrial fishing methods commonly used today are rapidly depleting stocks worldwide, not to mention negatively affecting ocean environments. Glad to see this fisherman is using sustainable catch methods.

I can also recommend Kurlansky's The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. I listened to that one on audio CD in the car. Fascinating!

Anonymous said...

Beautifully done. Hope they figure out how us locals can get live cod too.

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