Order Chatham cod in any New York City restaurant, and it's likely you're not getting what you asked for. According to an article in the New York Times, fishermen have been counting on a steady supply of cod in the waters off of Chatham, Massachusetts for 300 years, but virtually no cod have been caught there since January.
Bob St. Pierre, who has been working the waters for 30 years, said in the article that any cod on a menu described as Chatham probably came from "way out on Georges Bank," described as the vast Atlantic fishing area 60 miles offshore. Those Chatham cod are unreachable for dayboat fisherman, who use hooks and lines instead of nets.
Though stocks of cod were once so plentiful here they were used as fertilizer for flower beds, it became apparent the fishery was in danger in the 1990s and restrictions were placed on cod fishing. That seemed to help as the Georges Bank cod fishery has rebuilt itself somewhat.
To bring the cod back to the shore now, fishermen and environmentalists are focusing on river herring, which cod eat. In April a hundred years ago, according to the article, Americans from Maine to the Carolinas would have been ankle-deep in river herring, which was one of the fist signs of Spring. Over the last decade there has been a drastic drop in river herring populations in the Northeast.
Tom Rudolph, a researcher for the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fisherman's Association, said in the article that the herring are a priority. "We don't catch herring, we don't sell herring, but all the fish that our fishermen depend on eat the herring."
Fishing for river herring is banned in some states, but river herring spend most of their lives farther out at sea, where the states do not have jurisdiction. One fisherman in the article blames large fish trawlers who accidentally kill river herring as unwanted "bycatch."
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