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Long Line Atlantic Cod

By David Pilat, October 19, 2010  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by David Pilat
A trip to Iceland may conjure up images of active volcanoes and Vikings, but these days it’s more realistic to spot sustainable fishermen working with low impact gear. Our stores in Northern California as well as in the Northeast area are currently carrying fresh long line Atlantic Cod from Iceland, and the customer reaction has been great. Cod is a fish known to change worlds and impact cultures for hundreds of years, and it’s certainly no stranger to controversy. As the global seafood coordinator for Whole Foods Market I’ve seen my share of unique and impressive fisheries; visiting Sudureyri in the far northwestern corner of Iceland ranks with the best of them. I headed there last month with a small group from Whole Foods Market to see the fishery first hand. The initial impression of Sudureyri brings to mind one word – remote. This small fishing village of less than four hundred people is only an hour plane ride from Reykavik but a world away from standard industry. To reach the village you have to travel miles through the mountains in a dark tunnel, emerging out onto a beautiful landscape of peaks and valley with the ocean spread out on all sides. The town features an inn, your classic pub or two, and a few dozen modest homes. The industry here consists of long line cod fishing, with a nod to passionate sport fishermen from Europe who often visit in the summer to catch hook and line cod — sometimes weighing over 40 pounds! This community has seen it’s share of overfishing. In the 1970’s Sudureyri was home to a few large scale trawlers. They worked the waters hard until the cod were just about fished out. Strong regulations were then put in place to prevent complete collapse of the fishery. The local fishermen took note and changed the gear used to fish for cod. These days the commercial fishermen use day boats and long lines. Long lines are comprised of hundreds of hooks that cause little to no damage to the ocean floor. To really gain an understanding about the mechanics involved, our group tagged along on a commercial boat to watch the fishermen in action. For this trip, we only went out a few miles, but often they head out for an hour or two before dropping the lines. The lines are let out from the stern of the vessel — a 35-foot two-man boat built specifically to catch cod. The lines are marked with a buoy, and the boat returns quickly that same day to pull the lines and assess the catch. On this day we watched as hundreds of pounds of cod were pulled up just 30 minutes after setting the line. The cod are all individually caught, no net or other gear is necessary. They come on board to be de-hooked and iced by the two-man crew. The boat returns to shore just hours after catch and the fish are processed right in town. From there, it’s a non-stop journey to our stores. This type of long line gear allows for minimum by-catch and smaller, non-targeted species can be sent back to the water when necessary. Watching the simple gear in action was a tribute to the fact that technology is not always the answer to sustainable fishing; in fact, this long line method has been used for hundreds of years across the globe. Atlantic Cod from Iceland caught with long lines is ranked yellow by both the Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium. This catch method is less harmful to the environment, and while management is in place, the yellow ranking indicates there’s still room for long-term improvement. I think it’s nice to know that communities like this still exist and you can support them by looking for long line Atlantic Cod from Iceland – currently in our stores in Northern California and in our Northeast region stores, and making its way to more stores as I write this.
Category: Seafood




Katie Brandt says ...
I am going to go pick up some cod and give it a try on some cedar grilling planks!! Great post.
10/20/2010 4:12:41 PM CDT
Barbara says ...
I am reading the "Four Fish" and have a better understanding of our seafood dilemna. I'm pleased about Whole Foods procedure regarding seafood.
10/20/2010 5:29:24 PM CDT
strve spooner says ...
have you seen any green ling brought in on the long lines? havent eaten any in years best of the best.black or sable fish in the oregon stores last week nice sweet stuff good job.lets talk about puget sound oysters comeing into thankgiving stuffing ets. sholewater quillicene westcott bay olys penncove minttibrook ets where are they? thank you
10/20/2010 9:21:42 PM CDT
Dorothea Hartford says ...
Icelandic food rocks, now you have to import the hotdogs and the hangikjot.
10/21/2010 9:05:54 AM CDT
Lynn H. says ...
I love WH's wild caught halibut but I am certainly going to give the cod a try after reading this story. Cheers to Sudureyri!
10/21/2010 3:23:08 PM CDT
James Rochford says ...
It's been a while since I've visited my local Whole Foods Market. This sounds like a great reason to visit while supporting the Icelandic fishermen. It's going to be cod, for sure, this weekend.
10/22/2010 7:35:31 PM CDT
Michael says ...
A casual search of internet results will show that long line fishing is far from being considered non-destructive, although it is acknowledged as being better than trawling. However, long line fishing is frequently cited as the cause of death for many other forms of marine life, including mammals such as sea lions, who are of no value to the fishing industry. I am glad that the particular fishery cited seems to have a good track record, but I would caution WFM from making generalized statements concerning this practice as a whole based on the experience of only one example.
10/24/2010 8:49:53 PM CDT
Bob says ...
There is no way to sustainable harvest a critically endangered species such as the Atlantic cod anymore than we can sustainable harvest blue whales, Amur tigers, or black rhinos. This is disgraceful at best. I didn’t think helping a species towards extinction was the Whole Foods image.
10/25/2010 12:33:28 PM CDT
Bob says ...
Also, should Whole Foods really be buying fish from a nation (Iceland) that disregards international laws and treaties and actively hunts whales, including the endangered Fin Whale?
10/26/2010 7:57:21 AM CDT
Nancy P. says ...
Picked up some cod over the weekend. It was super fresh, easy to prepare and so delicious. Will be back end of the week as I am hosting a large dinner party. Going to feature the cod on cedar grilling planks -- Yum!
10/26/2010 10:01:05 AM CDT
Steingrímur Guðjónsson says ...
Nice article. I'm glad to see that Americans can get some Icelandic cod. It's a really delicious fish! Would be nice to get a WholeFoods store in Iceland one day :) I was blown away at the quality of the store when I visited the states the other day! @Bob: Cod is endangered in many parts of the world were fishing regulations have lead to overfishing, such as in the EU and Canada. This does however not apply to cod within the Icelandic fishing border which is plentiful and far from being overfished. As for whaling, you might want to take a look at the number of whales killed in the US compared to Iceland per year. If you would do that you would find that the US actually hunts down more whales per year then Iceland does! There has also been a substantial recovery of the Fin whale population in Iceland in the last decades and the 100-200 Fin whales we've hunted down per year has not and will not change that very important recovery process. I would recommend anyone to look at the facts and then make up their mind! Best from Iceland Steingrímur
10/26/2010 6:55:03 PM CDT
Bob says ...
Dear Steingrímur Guðjónsson, are you actually bragging about killing 150-200 critically endangered fin whales? You are aware that your country is in defiance of international law, right? The Icelandic whalers are targeting endangered fins in blatant violation of the global moratorium on commercial whaling and in defiance of the regulations of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Japan, your main buyer of whale meat, has more than they can sell right now so there is little economic gain from continuing the illegal killing. If anything, your nation loses money from the slaughter since it hurts your whale watching tourism income. There are many more people in this world willing to pay to see a whale than there are willing to pay to eat a whale. It is as if you nation is killing whales out of spite because you don't want to be told what to do by outsiders. Also your statement of "within the Icelandic fishing border which is plentiful and far from being overfished" is an inaccurate statement to say the least. Here is the research you asked for: http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2009/05/29-02.html and http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0005529.
11/04/2010 10:24:01 AM CDT
Betty Davis says ...
Although I have been shopping at Whole Foods for several years, recently I began receiving your online flyers with their very informative articles. After reading your article on fish, I went immediately to one of the stores here in New York City to buy Atlantic Cod from Iceland and some Catfish. To my dismay, you had a lot of Cod from this side of the Atlantic with its bold RED ranking and there was no Catfish at all. I walked away empty-handed. Chances are I would have bought some of the Cod if you had not tagged it (some say ignorance is bliss), after all it was on sale! Thank you for making me even more sensitive (I'd read about cod before and ignored the information) but seeing the label at point of purchase stopped me from buying it. When will you have Pacific Cod available? Regarding the Catfish, I don't want to buy it from anyone else and I will wait until you have it in stock again, hopefully soon.
11/08/2010 9:27:13 AM CST
bepkom says ...
Bob, Several factors contribute to the red rating for Atlantic cod, including the habitat impacts of bottom trawling and bycatch. Abundance of Atlantic cod is also a factor and it is indeed low. In the United States, Atlantic cod is not designated “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act, but it is listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN and threatened and endangered by the Species at Risk Act in Canada. We acknowledge the seriousness of this situation and have transparently labeled the fish in our seafood counters to give customers the opportunity to make informed choices. We have committed to stop selling all red-rated Atlantic cod by Earth Day 2013 (phasing out other red-rated species sooner). For Atlantic cod, specifically, we are working to find opportunities to source this species more sustainably. We have worked with New England cod fishermen for years and through this partnership are hoping to work together to find solutions.
11/15/2010 5:33:18 PM CST
Kate Coleman says ...
Can the Icelandic cod be purchased at any stores in Colorado, Kansas, Texas in Boulder particularly? Please let me know the stores that are stocking the Sudureyri village Icelandic Cod. Thanks and best regards kac/N.D.
12/09/2010 1:27:53 PM CST
bepkom says ...
Hi Kate, Product selection can vary from store to store so unfortunately I can't tell you which are carrying it. The best thing to do is contact the Seafood departments at the stores in your area. Thanks!
12/09/2010 1:35:10 PM CST
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07/15/2011 10:22:17 PM CDT
debbie curtis says ...
We really enjoy using the Atlantic cod for our fish fry to support our local Volunteer Fire Department. I was checking to see if you could help with a donation we could use any help. We have a fish fry and auction and all proceeds go for further training buying new equipment needed and to help with maintenance of equipment we already have. Thank you so much
08/07/2015 9:19:38 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@DEBBIE - Most of our donations are handled at the store level. Check with your local store to find out what their donation process is!
08/14/2015 4:50:28 PM CDT
Jim says ...
This is a great alternative to the Radiated fish coming out of the Pacific (IMO). It is reasonably priced at my location which is bringing a great nutritional value to the community. And it is a refreshing breath of air to read that WF is once again taking the time to try doing due diligence. WF is a pioneer in the supermarket industry and it makes no sense to criticize them for not doing enough... They're the only ones even trying! Even though I am a little jealous about this 'vacation' to Iceland.. I must be working too hard.. How the heck do i get that job?
09/20/2015 6:49:14 PM CDT