Cod by Mark Kurlansky Term Paper

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Cod written by Mark Kurlansky. The author takes a look at how the countries that once flourished on their fishing industries are now really worried because of fact that the fish is near extinction.

The moral of the story is that man is the main destructor of the world but fails to take appropriate action when it is really required and realizes when nothing can really be done.


Mark Kurlansky, author of the book Cod, uses his writing skills to show us the history of the world through the eyes of the codfish. This is rather different from most books because it uses conventional thinking to illustrate the wars, and other conflicts that plague our society. The author uses facts and figures to present information in a unique manner to the reader about the type of world crisis the humble cod fish will be experiencing. The author tells us that for about two hundred and fifty years, nearly 60 per cent of the all the fish eaten in Europe was cod. This gigantic market created a "codfish aristocracy" for New England fishermen, who became wealthy colonists living lavish lifestyles. They did not think that the government had the right to intervene in how they exploited the fishing industry to make money. This did initiate the American Revolution in the other continent.

Codfish effected Iceland's entire population from the Middle Ages to the middle class in the 1970s when they formed a restriction on the fishing area to fifty miles along its coast. In one year "eighty-four trawlers - sixty-nine British and fifteen German - lost their nets" to an Icelandic Coast Guard vessel towing a "trawl wire cutter." (Cod)

In the book we find out that the better survivor for hundreds of years, is not the codfish but the cod fisherman. The Basques were the first people to fish for cod. They preserved the caught fish by drying and salting, as a source of food during the long sea voyages. In 1534,an explorer by the name of Jacques Cartier found that the St. Lawrence River, had1000 Basque fishing vessels. However, the Basques kept this a secret and never really claimed their fair share of the fish.

Mark Kurlansky's 'fish tale' covers 400 years of American history as well as world history to show us how one a significant change in one species can affect the entire nation. He starts off with the Basque fishermen who are said to have discovered North America before Columbus, the author tells us how cod was a principle source of diet for them. This did have an effect on the incidents of American Revolution and slavery. He presents issues that make him sound concerned for the protection of the Atlantic cod, and how certain factors lead to the extinction of the fish. A perspective of the 'cod wars' of the mid-20th century provide an insight for the historical events that occurred during the Cold War. Overall, the book is about how war, diplomacy, trade and exploration were initiated by one species of fish namely, the codfish. It uses history to teach us how we have to change certain aspects in our lifestyle but knowingly we refuse to change our customs, diets, and occupation if we are to protect our environment.

These aspects have led to wars fought over and over giving rise to revolutions, codfish has even led to becoming a national diet that the people have found as a source of income and the nations most important source of economic revenue for the settlement of North America at that time. This is why the author argues that it is essential to preserve the national treasure that is far more precious than gold. This is the basic theme of the book, which eloquently tells us about the events in the world history over a period of thousand years that have changed the course of our lives by using the codfish. The fish has become monumental in history since the Basques, first commercialized cod in medieval times, to Bartholomew Gosnold, who named Cape Cod in 1602. It went so far that Clarence Birdseye made an entire industry on frozen cod in the 1930s. But from its transitions since the 17th century cod wars to the tale told by the author of how this fish that was once upon a time abundant is now near extinction, effecting the global ecological balance from Nova Scotia and New England to Scandinavia, the coast of England, Brazil, and West Africa.

Kurlansky relates these changes in the ecological balance using historical photographs, drawings, and artifacts, as well as a collection of recipes, from the Middle Ages to modern chefs, telling us about the heritage of the codfish.

To many of us, Cod is simply a fish but in the book, Kurlansky notes, "To most of the British working class, "fish" means cod, surprisingly this is how other nations perceive fish too.

Many of us after reading the book, would believe that the fish cod start wars, founded cities, and was the source of food for so many people, would have ever thought that the cheap codfish heads we fed to our cats, that cods' cheeks, tongues and lips were actually a specialty in Iceland! Nowadays we find rows of bottles of cod-liver-oil capsules in the health-food shop, but the fact is that the fish that was largely abundant then is now facing extinction.

This book is definitely a fascinating read that may worry the reader at times since the fish that is so important to the economy as the staple diet for so many people, is an easy catch making it a profitable trade, it is there in folk-lore, history, language, art, recipes and, even, domestic architecture of many cultures. Kurlansky takes this as an opportunity to highlight the importance of the fish in our lives, while it also paints a sad picture of its near extinction.

Kurlansky, describes the fish as "is not a nice guy: fecund, voracious, omnivorous" - "if ever a fish were made to endure, it is the Atlantic cod. But it has among its predators man, an open-mouthed species greedier than the cod."

The population of Cod was once in great numbers that they could be as the author says, "scooped from the sea in baskets." The weight of the Cod, could even be as much as thirty pounds or more and grew "as big as a man." One of the measures that have been taken to conserve the specie is by having modern fishing methods oblige to fishing limits, quotas and halt fishing as a way to allow the cod's survival. However, the species still continues to become more and more rare day by day.

Cod - a species of fish too well-known to require any description. It is amazingly prolific. Leewenhoek counted 9,384,000 eggs in a cod-fish of middling size -- a number that will baffle all the efforts of man to exterminate." -- J. Smith Homans Sr. & Jr. (editors) "Cyclopedia of Commerce and Commercial Navigation" (1858) - quoted in "Cod" by Mark Kurlansky (1997)

This makes a lot of difference on those fishermen, who depend on the fish for livelihood. For the rest of us, Kurlansky accepts the fact that it matters to all of us. Cod-fishermen know the seas they fish in, that is why they try their best to monitor number of cod in the water, by using ecologically reliable practices. But the author says that intrusion of greed, politics, and the economic demands of businesses ruin their efforts.

The codfish lays a thousand eggs

The homely hen lays one

The codfish never cackles

To tell you what she's done

And so we scorn the codfish

While the humble hen we prize

Which only goes to show you

That it pays to advertise.

Anonymous American rhyme - quoted in "Cod" by Mark Kurlansky (1997)

Cod is a part of world history that formed flourishing cod-aristocracies, and the inhabitants of cities like Boston, Massachusetts, who took their trade as a source of pride in the society. For Norwegians, codfish was like a way of bonding with their men wherever they met them, holding cod feasts. Entrepreneurs, from the Basque fishermen being the first to find cod for fishing and then their secret of cod-fisheries hundreds of years ago, to the inventive experiment of frozen cod food in 1910, all signify the place of cod in our lives. The recipes that have been sprinkled throughout the book signify the importance of the cod cuisine.

If ever there was a fish made to endure, it is the Atlantic cod... But it has among its predators man, an openmouthed species greedier than cod." -- Mark Kurlansky, "Cod" (1997)

What we must realize is that the extinction of the cod from our seas, communities, will affect the museums and picturesque tourist attractions. "Are we headed for a world where nothing is left of nature but [nature] parks?" asks Kurlansky. "Are the last…[continue]

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