Any formal introduction of the reader to the Cod family is surely needless, for they are old acquaintances. Round the British Isles and in all northern seas these valuable food fish abound where the depth is not too great, for their favourite feeding grounds lie at a hundred and fifty fathoms and less distance from the surface. Often, indeed, they come close inshore and may be caught from the beach.
The Cod family is a large and important one, but for the moment I will only deal with Gadus morrhua, that great lump of a fish which is to be seen almost any day of the year, displaying its noble proportions on the fishmonger's marble slab. Naturalists, and indeed fishermen, record several varieties. For instance, the fish of the Doggerbank are somewhat longer in the head than the Scotch cod. Codlings are caught of all kinds of colours (yellow, brown, speckled, red, &c), which may depend on the rocks and seaweed among which they are living. I took one almost red and sent it to the late Dr. Day, thinking I had discovered a marvel, but that eminent ichthyologist informed me it was an ordinary cod. Off the Isle of Man, however, the red cod are deemed the best. They are often quite bright in colour, and their appearance may after all not be altogether dependent on the nature of their haunts, as they are found in company with brown fish. They are caught weighing as much as 30 lbs.—sometimes more.
There are few fish more prolific than the cod. Buckland counted nearly two million eggs in a fish of 11 1/2 lbs. ; and 7 3/4 lbs. of cod roe he found to contain 6,867,000 eggs. Professor Sars said that cod spawn seemed to ' fill the sea' towards the end of March near the Loffoden Islands, the great cod-fishing grounds of Norway. There the shoals of cod are so numerous that they are called fish mountains, and as the lines are being let down the leads can be felt hitting against fish. It has been calculated that if five million eggs is the average number contained by each female cod, and that about half a shoal consists of females, one of these enormous fish mountains of Norway will deposit in the sea three hundred billion eggs. From such marvellous figures as these one might, and people often have, jumped to the con clusion that, however much we fished for cod, we could never thin them out. A moment's consideration will show us that each pair of cods probably only produces in the end one mature fish, or thereabouts. If it were otherwise—if, for instance, every two cod out of their five million eggs produced two fish, the numbers of cod in the sea would be doubled every year. Anyone will soon see for himself, if he works out the figures, that in a few years cod would be packed so thickly between England and the Continent that the Channel could be crossed without boats.
We in England are far behind the rest of the world in marine fish culture, particularly as regards cod, though the Scotch Fishery Board has of late years taken some steps in that direction. Norway, Newfoundland, and America are the three countries where cod have been successfully reared. In Newfoundland, at Dildo, Trinity Bay, is a very complete hatchery mainly devoted to these fish. The salt water used in it is pumped up from a depth of thirty feet, so that it may be pure. The hatchery can contain about two hundred million eggs. For some years the Newfoundland cod fishery has been deteriorating, and it is hoped that this hatchery will restore it to its former excellence.
Flodevig, at Arendal in Norway, a very much more important cod hatchery, is under the direction of Captain G. M. Dannevig. Since it was established something like nine hundred million cod fry have been bred there and placed in Norwegian waters, and—a matter more to the point—there has been a marked increase in the number of small cod found along the coasts. While the returns for other fish have decreased, the cod fisheries, in which 101,650 fishermen are engaged, appear to be improving. The immensity of the operations may be gathered from the fact that in 1892 Norway exported cod to the value of thirty-three million kroner, a kroner being a little more than a shilling. The hatchery of Flodevig was formerly a private enterprise, but for the last few years it has been endowed by the government.
Formerly cod used to be stripped of their ova like salmon or trout ; but there is a great difference between the two fish. In salmon and trout the eggs ripen all at one time, and can be removed by pressure on the abdomen in a few seconds ; in cod they ripen by degrees, and are extruded at intervals lasting for a period of six weeks or so. Captain Dannevig now allows his fish to spawn naturally, and the impregnation of the eggs also takes place naturally with very good results, the fish meanwhile being kept in ponds supplied with filtered sea water. As the eggs come floating to the surface, the milt following and mixing with them, they are collected and placed in hatching boxes.
Anyone visiting Norway should certainly pay Flddevig a visit, and if a man of wealth, of a patriotic turn of mind and anxious to do his country a service, let him start some such institution on our own coasts. Those who would see cod fishing at its best, or shall I say worst, should when paying a visit to the midnight sun, or latitudes slightly less northern, drop lines overboard in the neighbourhood of the Loffoden Islands. There they will haul up cod after cod until their arms and backs weary, the whole deck running with gore and looking like some hideous shambles. It almost disgusts one of sea fishing, say those who have tried it.
The energetic Fishery Commission of the United States carries on a great deal of marine fish culture, cod by no means being neglected. And, needless to be said, our American friends deal in millions where we should be satisfied with thousands. Not only cod, but haddocks, pollack, mackerel, Spanish mackerel, and other fish are all artificially reared up to the fry stage. From twenty-two hatching establishments there were distributed in the course of two years 196,409,650 eggs ; 525,783,273 fry; 2,400,094 yearlings and adults—a total of 724,593,017. These were not all marine fish, a large number of white fish, pike, perch, and shad being included. In the year 1890-91, 3,000 selected cod produced over sixty-seven million eggs, from which were reared about thirty-six and a half million fry. It is very satisfactory to find that this planting of fry in the sea has in America, as in Norway, produced good results. Those who would seek further information on the subject I must refer to the Reports of the American Fishery Commissioners.