“Cod” by Mark Kurlansky

“A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World” … before reading this book, I didn’t really think cod, or any fish for that matter, had changed the world.  But if any has, then cod comes close.  The rich cod fishing off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, and later down by Massachusetts, led Europeans from the Vikings onward to the Americas.  The author says that the Basques were fishing there for hundreds of years before Columbus.  When Jacques Cartier “discovered” the mouth of the St. Lawrence river, planting a cross on the shore and claiming it for France, he noted the presence of one thousand (!) Basque fishing vessels.  Good fishermen never reveal their secret fishing holes!  Even if they are next to a new continent!

One main motivation for the Pilgrims in settling at Massachusetts Bay was to get rich fishing cod. (although they didn’t know how to do it at first … they didn’t know much about farming or other means of survival for several years, except how to find “hidden” Indian caches of food …)

At first, and for many hundreds of years, there seemed to be enough cod for anyone.  By the late 1800’s, government fisheries experts in Britain stated that the supply would never be exhausted, primarily citing the fact that it hadn’t yet up to that point.  Unfortunately a good thing doesn’t last forever, and even the seemingly inexhaustible supply of cod has more or less dried up.  Shrinking catches led to international tension such as the Icelandic-British “Cod Wars” of the 1970’s, when the Icelandic Coast Guard took to snipping the nets of British trawlers….

Other things learned:

English city names ___-wich = salt producer

El Dorado legend – originated from a sailor shipwrecked in Guiana, supposedly led to a fabulous golden city but then forgetting the location when he was eventually rescued.

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