On an island whose community relies on the seas—and was nearly destroyed by the crash of the cod industry in the early 1990s—maintaining a healthy symbiosis with a healthy ocean is of utmost importance. With the support of the Shorefast Foundation, the island charity behind Fogo Island Inn, island fishermen have started using locally designed “cod pots,” an innovative fishing technique that has a benign effect on the marine ecology while providing a higher quality fish to chefs in the area, and as far away as Ottawa and San Francisco.
The cod potting initiative is part of the Shorefast Foundation’s New Ocean Ethic, which takes a holistic approach to protecting the oceans through education, conservation projects, and sustainable practices. Introduced in 2010, about 75 cod pots are now being used by five Fogo Island fishing vessels and 13 fisherman, and many of the island’s restaurants—including the one at Fogo Island Inn—are offering cod pot cod on their menus.
Due to their structured design, these baited baskets keep fish alive and swimming for up to ten days. This has a number of positive repercussions: the fish are hauled in living and undamaged, providing a fresher, better quality catch to consumers. Fishermen can select a range of fish of different ages and let the other ones go, instead of aiming for only the biggest fish, which are often the best breeders. Bycatch also stays alive, and can be released back into the sea unharmed.
There’s no need for fisherman to risk their lives on stormy seas; since the fish are living, they can wait for calmer weather to pull up the pots. And finally, if the pots are lost underwater, their trap mechanism is designed to disintegrate, so that any caught marine life can escape. The pots are also being used for research purposes: in conjunction with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, researchers with the New Ocean Ethic are catching, tagging, and releasing cod to monitor fish populations and ocean health.
What does this mean for Fogo Island? A breath of life for a suffering fishing industry; a premium on quality instead of quantity; and a hope that as more fishermen take on this sustainable practice, the seas off Newfoundland will once again thrive.
What does it mean for guests? The cod on their plates is local, responsibly caught, and quite possibly some of the best they’ve ever tasted.
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