For the love of cod

Posted: Friday, May 06, 2011

While halibut and salmon attract most of the attention of anglers and the media, Pacific cod flop around on the sidelines, scarcely noticed. It's high time someone praised cod.

Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus), also known as P-cod, grey cod, true cod and Alaska cod, is closely related to the somewhat larger Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). It grows to a maximum size of 39 inches. Among its distinguishing characteristics is a long barbel under its chin, like that of a catfish. It sports three dorsal fins and two anal fins. Patches or spots of olive drab cover the back and sides of its whitish body.

Like halibut, the Pacific cod concentrates in deep waters in winter and moves to shallower waters in summer. It preys on clams, worms, crabs, shrimp and pretty much any juvenile fish they come across. It is preyed upon by sharks, halibut, sea birds and marine mammals.

Commercial fishermen like Pacific cod, which comprised 15 percent of the total 2009 groundfish catch for Alaska, some 228,000 tons. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium "Seafood WATCH," Pacific cod is a "Best Choice" when caught in the U.S. Pacific by bottom long-line, trap or hook-and-line. Cod also are caught by dragging trawl gear along the bottom, a method known to damage corals and other habitat.

According to FishWatch, a National Marine Fisheries Service Web site:

* Pacific cod populations are abundant and harvested at sustainable levels.

* The U.S. Pacific cod fishery is often hailed as one of the best managed fisheries in the world.

* Cod is a good source of low-fat protein, phosphorus, niacin and vitamin B12.

* Over 96 percent of the cod harvested in the United States is Pacific cod, the vast majority of which comes from Alaska waters.

Granted, a Pacific cod caught on sport-fishing tackle doesn't generate much excitement on the water, but it certainly does on a plate. It's firm, large-flaked, snow-white flesh tastes slightly sweet, never "fishy," and is more moist than halibut. It can be sauteed, stir-fried, baked, poached, broiled and deep-fried. Chefs who like to pair fish with a sauce love Pacific cod. At the market, it costs far less than halibut. Earlier this week, Fred Meyer in Soldotna was selling frozen Pacific cod for $4.99 a poundFresh wasn't available, but usually costs a couple dollars more per pound. Fresh halibut was going for $14.99 per pound.

While Pacific cod deserve respect, one place they don't get it is on the average halibut charter, where they're often chopped up for halibut bait. It's extra work for someone to fillet cod caught on halibut charters, so customers who want to take cod home might want to consider tipping more for this service.

Small worms sometimes can be found in the flesh of P-cod, as well as in other fish, including halibut and salmon. These worms can be easily removed, either at the time they are filleted or at home.

Pacific cod are often caught on or near the bottom while fishing for halibut. Eager eaters, they can be caught with jigs or bait. They are often found in large numbers. There is no bag or possession limit.

They store well in a home freezer, much better than salmon.

What's not to like about Pacific cod?

Les Palmer lives in Sterling.

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