Gordon Slade, the chairman of Fogo Island’s Shorefast Foundation, explained that fish landed in gillnets slowly begin to die as soon as they’re caught. If bad weather prevents a fisher from retrieving the net right away, the dead fish start to rot. And because they’re not bled immediately after being killed, a gillnet cod can taste bloody. Industrial processors sometimes bathe cod in ammonia to mask the flavors of blood and old fish.
Gillnets make for a mushy, inferior product. The lowest grade of net-caught cod goes for as low as CA$ 0.20 a pound, Payne said, with the average being around CA$ 0.50 or 0.60 per pound.
By comparison, cod pot fish are kept alive until they’re hauled onto deck, and are immediately chilled in seawater after being bled. These fresh, unblemished fillets fetch a premium at market. In 2016, a local Fogo cooperative bought cod landed in pots for CA$1.45 a pound — more than double the highest price for net-caught cod. And buyers are loving it.
“People — let’s say the restaurants and the chefs and so on — are paying more attention to the fish that they’re getting on their table,” Slade said. “There’s a real revival in the sense of how quality is looked at now today in the province as opposed to 10 years ago. The cod pot is part of that renaissance.”
Cod is in the details
Pots have a slew of benefits beyond producing higher-quality cod. Because pots rest gently on the seafloor, they don’t destroy delicate bottom habitats. There’s little to no accidental catch of non-target animals in the pots. And unlike gillnets, which can rip free of their anchors and “ghost fish” for decades — snagging commercially valuable fish and drowning seabirds and whales — the pots stay put. <img alt="" src="http://oceana.org/sites/default/files/285468/sealwatching_dsc_0586c_photo_paddy_barry.jpg" title="A Fogo seal rests on winter ice. Credit: Fogo Island Inn ” style=”border: 0px; outline-color: initial; outline-style: initial; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; box-sizing: border-box; display: block; -webkit-user-drag: none;”>
A Fogo seal rests on winter ice. Credit: Fogo Island Inn
According to Favaro, a fisher can catch his or her full weekly quota in one day with just 25 pots (and yes, there are female fishers on Fogo, including Payne’s wife Marie). Cod pots save big on gasoline costs, and free up fishers to pursue other work.
The main reason more fishers aren’t using cod pots is money. At around CA$ 1,000 per piece, the pots are far more expensive than gillnets. Only about six or seven out of around 100 fishers on Fogo are using cod pots right now — the only people in all of Newfoundland to be doing so. These fishers did not foot their own bill. The Shorefast Foundation, sensing the chance to promote its mission of local marine stewardship, paid for the trial pots.