Uh, just water for me, thanks.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020: Talk about yoyoing. We’ll see a near record high temp followed by an ultra-fast bash of frigidity followed by a return to the ongoing unwinter weirdness, 50s daily by next week.
I got a cryptic message about a near-keeper striper taken in the LBI surf. If you sent me that communique, please confirm that hookup was recent. Thanx.
TRAIN OF THOUGHT CONVERSATION: It’s a fine time of the year to hype fish survival rates, post C&R.
I just had a chat with a fellow into fishery research who fully agrees with an assumption I’ve forward that the great majority of C&R (catch and release) fish swim off just fine -- “If handled properly,” we both agreed.
“I’ve tagged hundreds of fish and have data proof that they survived being caught and released. … We (his group) have also monitored countless fishes tagged by hook-and-line fishermen and the survival rate is actually remarkable,” he went on – accompanied by my inserted sounds of agreement.
I eventually asked about big game catch and release and he stated things get a lot more complicated “out there.” He pointed out the extreme danger of exhausted big game releases being put upon by sharks and even larger pelagiids. “Some captains are better than others at reoxygenating exhausted fish before release,” he said, pointing out the benefits of strategically backing down on hookups to speed up the landing process.
On the upside, he said he has documented accounts of big game fish “bleeding badly from the gills” when landed that were tagged and swam off “in a cloud of red” to be caught again years later.
Expectedly, sharks have some of the lowest catch/release success rates, “Less than 50 percent survival when improperly handled.” This poor survival showing is likely due to the lack of organ protection and support offered by a shark’s cartilaginous skeleton, as opposed to that offered by a calciferous boney skeleton. “Never bring a shark onboard. Simply hauling it onboard twists its internal organs, leading to eventual death,” he said.
MENTIONING MANATEES: By the by, I got into the above dialogue while trying to get natural history info on the manatee DOA that washed up in Cape May.
Looking at the initial multimedia write ups, I’m balking at the efforts by global warmists to all but take credit for the death, though my experts weren’t ready to rule out that possibility – in a generic sense, i.e. that coastal waters are changing at a rapid clip.
Without debating, I did bring up the remarkable increase in these beloved mammalian creatures, more closely related to elephants than whales. The rebuild is an also-ran possibility for that manatee being caught dead up this way … in February!
In 1991, the Florida manatee population had been down to 1,267 but remarkable conservation efforts – NJ folk were huge supporters of the rescue -- now have Sunshine State manatee numbers hovering at around 6,300. That’s a 500 percent increase.
Throughout its range (see insert), this Trichechidae now numbers well in excess of 13,000. That count might be much higher since many areas of its range includes nations that don’t do exacting aerial surveillance counts.
I brought those recovery numbers into the conversation to suggest resurgence alone might account for the exploratory manatees that have made it up to Jersey in recent summers – forgetting, or not knowing enough, to head back south in a timely manner. In fact, many down-South creatures have made the migratory mistake of hanging too long in the changeable climates of areas they’ve happened upon. Porcupine fish never seem to get it right.
I will gladly assume the notion that warming seas could eventually lead to more and more northwardly exploring manatees moving into our water. It would be a combination of global warming and what will hopefully continue to be a geometrical increase in their numbers.
The subject of pelicans came up, as I questioned whether it might have been one of the earliest species to sense planetary warmth shifts. Maybe, though I pointed out that massive natural coastal areas to the south have been built upon, kicking pelicans northward.
Along with higher potential for at-sea strengthening of storms moving off our coast – possibly but not positively impacting our weather – the whole oceanic warm-up thing will surely show first as longer transitional seasons, namely spring and fall. Both the earlier arrival of spring and the extension of fall will obviously play heavily into fishing times. Less obvious will be the inching northward of what might be dubbed Carolina specie – a cadre of more tropical species, led by red drumfish, which once dominated our waters.
SHARKATHON: While on a Carolina roll, how about that inexplicable gang gathering of big ass great white sharks, a-play off the Outer Banks. It’s as if the Council of Great Whites and Affiliates called an emergency meeting at a convenient location, possibly to discuss how none of them managed to dine upon that huge ailing manatee up Jersey way.
Again, the researchers I reached regarding manatees were highly attuned to this gathered shark subject – almost to the frothing at the mouth point. They seemed most excited about being baffled. “Totally unexplainable. What’s more, those are just the pinging sharks,” referring to telemetrically tagged great whites. There’s no guessing how many of the alpha sharks are in the gathering. Might it be an orgy? Not seemingly, but hey … A veritable flotilla of research vessels is headed out there – with likely a few sightseeing boats in the mix.
Here's an NC news report headline and website: https://www.wbtv.com/2020/02/10/cluster-sharks-one-spot-off-carolin...
Cluster of sharks in one spot off Carolinas coast grows more intense, and mysterious
Satellite data shows the clustering off great white sharks off the Carolinas is growing more pronounced. Eight great white sharks are now one on top of the other near the state line. (Source: OCEARCH MAP)
Jim Hutchinson Sr.
Contrary to what many might imagine, the captains of the Beach haven Charter Fishing Association have not gone into hibernation. Rather they are up and about spreading the word about Beach Haven fishing at area fishing flea markets and fishing shows.
This Saturday, there will be BHCFA captains and junior mates at the Southern Regional High School Fishing Club’s annual fishing flea market. This very popular event is considered one of the best of its kind with many great bargains, and proceeds benefit the high school anglers. The event is at the Southern Regional Middle School in Manahawkin on Cedar Bridge Road and runs from 8am to 2pm.
The following week is the Philadelphia Fishing Show that runs for three days, Friday, February 21-23. It is held at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at 100 Station Avenue in Oaks, Pennsylvania. In addition to manning the BHCFA’s booth, captains will also be attending some of the fishing seminars to hone their skills.
The following week BHCFA captains and junior mates will be on hand at the nationally famous Atlantic City Boat Show. Atlantic City Boat Show begins on Wednesday, February 26 and ends on Sunday, March 1. It takes place at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City.
The captains of the BHCFA urging anglers to shake the effects of cabin fever and come out to any or all of these events and check out what the captains and young mates have to say. Additional information on the BHCFA and its many activities can be obtained at www.BHCFA.net.
CPOs Bryan Mascio and Sal Garofalo kept a watchful eye on the Assunpink WMA during the second part of the waterfowl season. CPO Mascio observed several hunters utilizing their boat under power to shoot at waterfowl. CPOs Macio and Garofalo interviewed the men when they returned to the boat ramp and they admitted to using their boat in the pursuit of hunting waterfowl. Several summonses were issued on scene. Not long after handling the waterfowl hunters, a concerned sportsman approached CPO Mascio and told him about a motor vehicle that was driving on two flat tires down the black top road on the Assunpink WMA. CPOs Mascio and Garofalo responded and found a vehicle moving slowly in the middle of the road while impeding traffic. After initiating a motor vehicle stop, CPOs called for State Police to assist in the processing of a possible DUI (driving under the influence). CPO Garofalo issued a motor vehicle summons for impeding the flow of traffic while State Police arrested the woman for driving under the influence of alcohol. The vehicle was towed from the state property.
Another project done to add to my collection. The U.S.Life Saving Station No. 119 on Tucker’s Island. Till the November 1930 storm. My next project is going to be parsons clam house along Tuckerton Creek.
OCEAN TOWNSHIP (Ocean) — Its name is both a play on words and a distillation of its mission. ReClam the Bay is well into its second decade of informing and engaging the public about growing shellfish life in the Barnegat Bay watershed.
Rick Bushnell, ReClam the Bay president, said the title of the organization came from the idea of a "reclamation project," but also highlights the importance of clams and other shellfish in filtering algae out of the water. When that happens, the water becomes clearer, allowing for the continued growth of eelgrass, which in turn encourages the health of other sea creatures.
As Bushnell, a lifelong sailor, puts it, if there are more shellfish in these bays (Barnegat, Manahawkin and Little Egg Harbor), more marine life of other types will follow.
ReClam the Bay has its roots in the Barnegat Bay Shellfish Restoration Program, which began as an offshoot of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension. But it soon grew into its own nonprofit, tasked with making the watershed more profitable.
"We've always felt that if the bay is to improve, it's got to be an economic success, and that will make it an ecologic success," Bushnell said.
One of the organization's main goals is to get people thinking about what they can do in their regular lives, away from the bay, to improve coastal water quality. Water flows in from streams and other bodies of water such as the Toms River, so if those pathways are polluted, bay areas will be affected.
"What we're really trying to explain to people when they're on beautiful islands enjoying the summer is that you can actually help us more when you go back home, if you take care of the environment when you're back home," Bushnell said.
That can include something as simple as remembering to pick up after your pets.
Something Bushnell said has really increased interest and involvement with ReClam the Bay is the foodie trend of the last five years or so. Diners want to buy local and buy fresh, and they're evermore interested in oysters. According to Bushnell, more than a dozen people are now making a living growing clams and oysters in the Barnegat Bay.
ReClam the Bay is also responsible for a series of attractions you may have noticed traveling through southern Ocean County. It's called the Clam Trail, a collection of 35 giant, painted clams, each accompanied by an ecological fact. The nonprofit offers a clam passport for these structures, including even more educational information.
To find out how you can get involved, go to reclamthebay.org.
Read More: Ocean County nonprofit wants to 're-clam' Barnegat and other bays | https://nj1015.com/ocean-county-nonprofit-wants-to-re-clam-barnegat...
NEW JERSEY DEP BEGINS REFORM OF ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS IN RESPONSE TO CLIMATE CHANGE
Protecting Against Climate Threats: DEP Seeks Stakeholder Input on Greenhouse Gas and Environmental Land Use Rule Changes
(19/P02) TRENTON - One week after Governor Phil Murphy and Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced a comprehensive effort to modernize New Jersey's environmental regulations to protect our communities and economy against the threats of climate change, the Department of Environmental Protection is moving forward with a collaborative rulemaking process, holding several stakeholder events throughout February and March, to make the New Jersey Protecting Against Climate Threats (NJ PACT) reforms a reality.
The DEP has scheduled a series of stakeholder sessions to gather input from residents, businesses and advocates on the development of new greenhouse gas reduction and environmental land use regulations aimed at reducing the impact of climate change and adapting to the realities of certain impacts, like sea-level rise.
"New Jersey is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, from sea-level rise that threatens our coastline to air pollution that harms our most vulnerable communities," said Governor Murphy. "We are moving swiftly to enact the regulations outlined in NJ PACT to reduce fossil fuel emissions and ensure investments in our innovation economy and communities. These policies, which will make New Jersey a global leader in the clean energy transition and fight against climate change, will help propel New Jersey to 100 percent clean energy by 2050."
"In New Jersey, we take seriously the science of climate change. We are heeding the warnings about risks like sea-level rise and acting with the urgency that these threats demand," said Commissioner McCabe. "As we work to modernize our environmental regulations to reflect the best available science, DEP is committed to a thoughtful and collaborative approach that engages stakeholders from across all sectors of our economy, non-governmental organizations, academia, and local government. We are all in this together."
On Jan. 27, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order 100, directing the DEP to make targeted regulatory reforms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change through the NJ PACT initiative. New Jersey is the first state to embark on a such an ambitious framework of measures targeted to both reduce emissions of climate pollutants and reform environmental land use policy to adapt to climate realities and ensure long-term resilience.
With Governor Murphy's leadership, New Jersey has been implementing a number of initiatives to both mitigate against future climate change and adapt to its certain effects, including releasing a clean-energy focused Energy Master Plan and ordering the development of a Statewide Climate Resilience Strategy, making New Jersey a national leader in the fight against climate change.
NJ PACT is the next evolution of these efforts, modernizing air quality regulations that will limit emissions of climate pollutants that exacerbate global warming, as well as environmental land use regulations that equip DEP, local governments, residents and businesses with tools to effectively respond to current climate threats. They are also forward looking, seeking to reduce future climate damages through rules for green infrastructure and resilient building that will help New Jersey fight risks like sea-level rise and extreme weather.
Soliciting feedback from the public and stakeholders for proposed environmental regulations is the first step in the rulemaking process that will conclude by January 2022. In advance of that date, DEP will consider all input it receives during its public stakeholder process as it formulates rule proposals. Once proposals are finalized, they will be published in the New Jersey Register for public comment and, after careful consideration of any comments received, finalized for adoption.
The DEP will hold initial stakeholder sessions on the following potential rules:
* Friday, Feb. 21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., focusing on periodic monitoring and reporting of statewide greenhouse gas emissions, hosted by the DEP Air Quality, Energy and Sustainability program.
* Tuesday, Feb. 25 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., focusing on ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, hosted by the DEP Air Quality, Energy and Sustainability program.
* Wednesday, March 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., to discuss rules to better plan for sea-level rise, extreme weather events and flooding, hosted by the Land Use Management program.
All sessions for both programs are open to public comment. They will be held at the DEP's First Floor Public Hearing Room, 401 East State Street, Trenton 08625.
Due to space limitations, the DEP is requesting attendees to RSVP. For more information, including session details, RSVP deadlines and contacts, visit https://www.nj.gov/dep/njpact/
Dolphin found shot dead on Pensacola Beach, $20K reward offered
This picture shows the dolphin found dead off of a Naples beach by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/Courtesy NOAA
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Last week, Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge experts recovered a dead dolphin along Pensacola Beach with a bullet in its left side.
This came in the same week where Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists discovered a dead dolphin off a Naples beach.
The NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement announced Tuesday it's offering up to $20,000 for info that leads to an arrest for the person or persons responsible for the two deaths.
NOAA officials are seeking information from anyone who may have details about these incidents. You're asked to call the NOAA Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964. Tips may be left anonymously.
Additionally, in May 2019, a dolphin was found dead with a fatal puncture wound to its head off Captiva Island. That investigation is ongoing and also offers a reward for information.
"Biologists believe these cases may stem from humans feeding wild dolphins," the NOAA says in a release. "Dolphins fed by people learn to associate people and boats with food which can put them in harmful situations. Dolphins may suffer fatal impacts from boat strikes, entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear, and acts of intentional harm like these. People can prevent harm to wild dolphins by not feeding or attempting to feed them."
The NOAA says "harassing, hunting, killing or feeding wild dolphins, or attempting to do these activities is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972."
Violations are punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year in jail per violation.
On Saturday, December 14th, 2019, Conservation Police Officers Jordan Holmes and Trevor Anderson were patrolling Warren County and came upon a hunter very close to multiple residences in Harmony Township. CPO Anderson conducted a field inspection and found the hunter to be in possession of a loaded Savage 111, .270 rifle, at a distance of 89 yards to the nearest residence. The hunter was visiting a friend and left the residence that afternoon to quickly shoot a deer without possessing a NJ hunting license. The hunter was issued summonses for hunting without a license, possession of a loaded firearm within 450 feet of an occupied building, hunting deer with a rifle, possession of illegal missiles, and failure to possess a valid rifle permit.
It's crunch time for the Bluebacks. If interested in grabbing one before they move in now's the time before that April run. I'll be doing this pattern in Minis, darts, chiefs and pencils and Combats.
Water Color by Tony Stezko
How To Select A Surf Fishing Rod For Striped Bass
I’m kind of a simple guy when it comes to surf fishing. I don’t get too fancy with colors, I’m not really itching to add the newest ‘wonder plug’ to my bag and I don’t like to mix things up with my surf fishing rods either. In actuality I only use two surf rods for the meat of every season; sure I have a backwater rig for the springtime and an albie rod for the fall. But I’d say that 90 percent of the striped bass I catch each season are landed using one of my two main workhorses—the Lamiglas GSB 1321M-OS (GSB111OS) or the Lamiglas GSB 1321MH.
But, BUT, these two sticks are not perfect for every person plying the Striper Coast. I look at surf fishing rods like any other tool in the wild world of sports; they’re like bicycles or shoes or golf clubs or baseball bats… they’re chosen based on the personal preferences of the athlete and specifically for the tasks, they’re intended for. I mean, you wouldn’t ride the Tour De France on a mountain bike and you wouldn’t run a marathon in work boots either. Furthermore, you wouldn’t face off against MLB pitcher Chris Sale using a Wiffle Ball bat.
Surf Fishing Rod Action and You
Because I am an avid baseball fan and I used to be pretty good at playing the game, I always reach back for baseball analogies when I have to talk about athletic movements—and make no mistake about it, your casting motion is an athletic movement that requires muscle memory and several parts of the body to work in concert with one another. I was a ‘wristy’ hitter in baseball, meaning that I derived a lot of my bat speed and power from the snap of my wrists. And when I first started fishing the surf, I was a wristy caster, I powered my casts with very little body motion, it started with my arms, transitioned to my wrists for power and then finished with the shoulders. So I naturally gravitated to faster rods—faster means that rod is very crisp and responsive (stiffer) and most of its power is stored in the upper third of the blank.
But something changed when I started fishing the Canal more back around 2006 or so, casting distance was starting to matter more and therefore I needed to put more of my body into the cast. My cast was evolving from the snappy quickfire of a baseball swing to the more complicated (yet elegant) whole-body motions of a golf swing, albeit turned upside down. This is when I first made the switch to Lamiglas, the slower action of the GSB line of blanks required a slower, more graceful motion to fire off a majestic cast. And I quickly found the rhythm of the slower cast.
Now I swing the plug out from my body and begin the cast when the plug swings in close to me. With my hands raised to about eye level, the motion begins as my bottom hand pulls the butt down into my gut. Simultaneously, my top hand ‘punches’ the foregrip over the top of my bottom hand, forcing the rod to arch over my upper hand. At that moment I transfer my weight from my back foot to my front foot while my hips snap around and face the water. The result is (usually) a very strong cast that carries the plug or bait a long distance. And, not unlike hitting a baseball or golf ball, it feels amazing when you hit the cast just right and it sails for the Azores.
When choosing a surf fishing rod you really have to decide what kind of caster you are and then match the speed and action of the rod you choose to your casting style. Are you wristy? Are you a full-body caster? Is your motion slow or quick? These questions will help you dial in the speed of your blank—the faster and wristier you are, the faster the rod you choose should be. And conversely, if you’re slower and use more of a full-body motion, then a more parabolic and slower blank is likely to work better for you. I should add here that I wouldn’t recommend buying anything slower than moderate for most surfcasting situations because fish control becomes an issue if the blank is too parabolic—not to mention casting a really slow rod is tiring and difficult.
In my opinion, blank speed is the most important thing to nail down, from there you can roughly match yourself to a stick for any situation. So the next question you have to ask yourself is, “Where am I going to use this rod?”
Matching your rig to your turf is second on my personal list of importance when choosing a rod. I put it second because you technically could use your 11-footer to fish for schoolies in April, but you’d look like a fool. The tougher the terrain, the longer the rod—that’s how I look at it. If you’re fishing back rivers and sandy beaches throwing nothing heavier than 3 ounces, then a 9-footer rated 1/2 to 4 ounces should serve your purposes well.
Change the scenario a little and you’re planning to throw the same plugs into boulder fields and some river mouths with a strong current, I’m going up to at least 10 feet. If you’re planning to do a lot of rock hopping and wetsuiting in varied terrain, throwing eels and plugs, then I’m bumping everything up, I’m looking for an 11-footer rated 2 to 6, with moderate action and a lot of backbone in the lower half.
The reason for the length and rating increases are control. Control is less of an issue when there isn’t much around for the fish to get into to cause trouble for you. The late Tony Stetzko told me he used a 9-footer almost all the time on the Cape beaches. But as the terrain becomes more ‘interesting’ control becomes more important so that we can take some of the advantage away from the fish. In my opinion, a softer tip is important because it absorbs a lot of the head-shaking, twisting and bucking that big bass use to try and free the hooks, at the same time that softness makes it less likely that you will pull the hooks by exerting too much pressure.
But if your rod has no power in the lower half then a big fish will have its way with you, especially when you get them inside 50 feet or so. I had this happen to me with a 42-pounder a few years ago when I was testing a rod for a new (at the time) company. Somehow I did land it, but it was a real rodeo getting my hands on her. The backbone gives you the ability to lean on the fish to exert more pressure without moving much. If you hold the rod vertical and the fish is in standoff mode or even starting a run, just tipping the rod back a few degrees will ratchet the pressure up in a hurry, this is how you turn a good fish.
The length of the rod does a few things for you, first of all, the longer the rod the higher your release point and the more recoil you’ll get from each cast, these two factors combine to increase your casting distance. How much difference does each foot make? I’d have to imagine that it depends on the person holding the rod, but it definitely makes a difference.
A longer stick also gives you more leverage over a fish and makes it easier to keep your line free of rocks, weed and other nuisance obstacles during the battle. With that said, I would never use a rod longer than 11 feet. This might be a personal thing for my casting style, but when I tried a 12-footer for a few casts, I felt like I had strapped my reel to a microwave tower and I just couldn’t find any benefit in having that extra foot.
Please refer to the chart below for a basic rundown of available surf rods and their actions.
|St. Croix Avid Series
||Very fast rods, great warranty—a good choice for wristy casters fishing the surf
|ODM Jigster Series
||Very fast and powerful rods, an excellent choice for the Canal.
|Lamiglas Super Surf Series
||Fast, but with more give than the Avid and Jigster, excellent surf rods for those that like faster rods but want a little give for fighting fish in shallow water.
|Lamigals Insane Surf Series
||Solid and budget-friendly choice for all-around surf applications, the action is fast for Lami, but not crazy like an Avid, there are choices in the line for most surfcasting situations.
|ODM Frontier Series
||These rods feel very powerful in the lower half with a little bit of a looser tip making them a good choice for those looking for dual-purpose options, you could use the 3-8 oz for wetsuiting and plugging the Canal for example.
|St. Croix Mojo Series
||Moderate & Moderate/Fast
||Highly popular ‘price-point’ rod. You have to look at the action on each specific rod to make a determination on how it will fit your style. They tend to be on the faster side of moderate though. They have a good warranty and they are excellent rods.
|Lamiglas GSB Series
||Considered by many to be the gold standard of surf rods, the GSB series combines a well-balanced blend of give and take. The tip is moderate but the lower half of the rod is very powerful making it one of the best rods out there for fighting big fish in the rocks. They have a no-hassle warranty—pay a small fee and get a new rod, no questions asked.
|ODM Genesis Series
||This is ODM’s lower-priced rod series, but they are very versatile and strong. They have a different feel than the GSB, more parabolic deriving its power from the whole blank. The lighter versions would make great sand beach rods while the heaviest one would be a great choice for fishing in the rocks.
|Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) Tactical Series
||Excellent price-point surf rods for those whose style matches best with a moderate rod. There are suitable choices for straight beach fishing to the rocks to the Canal. The rods from TFO feature an impressive balance of power in the butt and forgiveness in the tip.
|Daiwa Coastal Series Surf Rods
||The Coastal series from Daiwa combines some of the luxuries of more expensive surf rods with an amazing price. These rods are well made, and a good match for anyone with a slow-release casting motion. They fall a little short of more expensive rods in the power department, but they are excellent choices for estuary fishing and open surf.
|Tsunami Airwave Elite Series
||The best affordably-priced surf rod going. There are options forever discipline, including the Canal. These rods cast great, house an impressive amount of power and come with a solid warranty.
How Dried Cod Became a Norwegian Staple and an Italian Delicacy
The lucrative stockfish trade dates back to the Viking days.
IT’S 11 O’CLOCK ON A dim, cold, blustery morning in February, with a feeble arctic sun barely peeping over the horizon, and the harbor at Røstlandet is a hive of activity. Three boats are tied up to the wharf, delivering their bounties of fresh caught cod, while the skipper of another boat nestles his craft into a slot freshly vacated by a fourth. Ropes are cast, and cranes swing into operation. Through the open doors of a fish factory, forklifts can be seen shunting around the concrete floor, bearing huge plastic tubs filled with cod, cod livers, and salted cod roe.
Back on the dock, sales are made and deals are struck with a handshake, in an atmosphere of hard, cheery camaraderie. Some of these men have known each other since they were schoolboys together, watching their fathers and grandfathers doing these very same things.
It’s cod season once again in the far north of Norway, and Røst—a remote scatter of rocky islets off the outermost tip of Norway’s Lofoten Islands—is once more the honeypot for fishermen seeking jackpot paychecks in the lucrative dried cod trade, Norway’s oldest export industry, dating back to the Viking days.
Every winter, for more than a thousand years, Norwegian fishermen have flocked to these parts to scoop up the bounty of big, meaty migrating cod that come streaming down by the millions from the Barents Sea to breed among the reefs and shoals around the Lofoten Islands, and most especially here around Røst.
Stockfish—unsalted cod dried by cold air and wind on wooden racks on the foreshore, called hjell
. FRANCESCO ZOPPI
These Scots Still Fish Like the Vikings
But it's not clear whether future generations will keep the tradition alive.
The fish are cleaned and gutted and hung by their tails, in pairs, to dry in the traditional manner, on slatted wooden frames that can be seen all over the island. Then the catch is rendered into stockfish—the nutritious cod jerky that once sustained the Vikings on their long sea voyages and, today, is a highly prized delicacy in Italy, where it’s a key ingredient in traditional regional dishes from Venice, Naples, Genoa, and Calabria.
“Stockfish isn’t an Italian product, but sometimes you could almost imagine that it was,” says Olaf Pedersen, a former CEO of Glea Sjømat, one of Røst’s main stockfish companies, founded by his grandfather in 1936. “Over the centuries it has become deeply ingrained into their culinary and cultural traditions.”
Indeed, the Ligurian town of Badalucco holds a stockfish festival every year to commemorate the time, back in the Middle Ages, when the townspeople survived a siege by Moorish invaders by eating only stockfish. And over near Venice, on the opposite side of the country, the town of Sandrigo hosts the world’s largest stockfish festival—the Festa del Bacalà, held every September in celebration of the famed regional dish Baccalà alla Vicentina.
So important is the Italian market to Norway’s stockfish producers that Pedersen recently moved from Røst to Milan, where he now looks after the interests of a collective of 22 stockfish producers. Lofoten stockfish was recently awarded Denomination of Origin status, meaning it enjoys the same legal protections as Parma ham and French champagne.
Any way you want to measure it, it’s a long way from the warm Mediterranean sunshine to the moody skies over Røst, whose 365 islets and skerries are home to a few hundred hardy Norwegians and about a million seabirds. Yet the links between these two very different places go back nearly 600 years, to the shipwreck in 1432 of a Venetian merchant trader named Pietro Quirini. After his boat sank, he spent three enjoyable months with the islanders, and on his return to Italy, presented an account of his adventures to the Venetian senate.
Stockfish festivals abound in Italy, where dried cod has been a part of the culinary culture for nearly 600 years. MARKA / ALAMY
He also brought back some stockfish. The rich, nutritious, intensely flavored cod jerky proved an instant culinary hit, finding its way into regional dishes all over the country. An improbable new trade route was born, linking the Renaissance city states then comprising Italy with the lonely windswept isles of Røst.
It’s a trade route that’s helped make the islanders rich: Røst has the highest per capita number of millionaires in Norway. And the Italian historical connection persists. Take a stroll through Røst today and you’ll come upon places with names like the Quirini Cafe and Quirini Park. In 2012, an opera based on Quirini’s shipwreck premiered on Røst—a first for the tiny island—and was so popular with locals and visitors that it was brought back for a repeat performance two years later.
Olaf Pedersen’s grandfather founded the Røst stockfish company Glea Sjømat in 1936. COURTESY OLAF JOHAN PEDERSEN
The islanders owe their good fortune to their unique location. Not only does Nature deliver countless millions of migrating cod to their doorstep every winter. Thanks to the modifying effects of the Gulf Stream, they also enjoy exceptionally mild winters, given their latitude. Although the island sits well above the Arctic Circle, at nearly 68º north, winter temperatures here seldom fall much below freezing, or rise much above it.
“We have the perfect climate for making stockfish,” says Pedersen. “It’s a fine line. Even a couple of degrees can make all the difference. If the temperature were to fall to, say, minus-3 [degrees Celsius, or 26 degrees Fahrenheit], the freezing action breaks down the cells in the flesh, and you end up with something that’s yellowish and rubbery and unpalatable. On the other hand, if the temperature rises too high, you’ll just get a slow rot.”
Whether Røst’s delicately balanced climate stays perfect for making stockfish is an open question. So is the effect warmer waters might have on cod migration routes. One change that has already been noticed in a warming world is that fishing villages elsewhere in Lofoten that were previously too cold for curing stockfish are now able to do so. “Røst doesn’t have it all to itself quite so much any more,” says Pedersen.
Each cod is assigned one of 20 different grades based on subtleties in color, texture, and scent. COURTESY OLAF JOHAN PEDERSEN
Stockfish—the name derives from “stick fish,” because of the wooden frames on which it’s dried—is cured in the open air over several weeks, typically from February, when the season opens, to April. Then, to keep the spring rains from spoiling it, it’s brought indoors to finish drying. By midsummer it’s fully cured, and ready to be graded and sold.
“Stockfish is like fine cognac,” says Ansgar Pedersen, a veteran cod grader at Glea Sjømat who has been in the business all his life. Now nearly 70 years old, he has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I’ll retire when I’m 80,” he says with a laugh. He loves his job, which is just as well, as it requires him to examine each of the 400,000 or so dried cod the company sells each year, holding the fish up to the light, looking for subtleties in color, texture, and scent before deciding which of the 20 different grades to assign it.
Once or twice a year he’ll travel to Italy to meet with buyers and discuss their needs. “The people in Naples tend to want larger, meatier cod than those in Genoa or Calabria,” he says. “It all depends on how they are preparing. Each region has their own specialty.”
Norwegians, including the indigenous Sámi, have been drying cod for centuries. CHRIS HELLIER / ALAMY
If stockfish has insinuated itself into Italian culture and cuisine, it’s the very warp and weft of Norwegian. “There is a taste of cod in all my music,” Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg once claimed. It’s a coda that can be said to run through the rest of Norway’s culture and history as well, with the iconic fish appearing on crests and coats of arms in cities and villages up and down the coast.
The earliest literary reference to the dried-cod trade comes in an almost operatic scene in Egil’s Saga, a Viking yarn set in the ninth century. In it, a young Norse raider named Thorolf Kvendulfsson sets off for England in a brilliantly painted, dragon-prowed vessel, its blue- and red-striped sail filling with the summer breeze, its thwarts piled high with the fortune in furs and dried cod he and his men had accumulated during the previous winter.
The cargo fetches a fancy price in England, and Thorolf returns to Norway a wealthy man, only to fall afoul of the king, who feels that Thorolf has been getting a little too rich, a little too cocky, and not paying his taxes. Their subsequent falling out—and Thorolf’s murder—sets up an intergenerational feud that forms the narrative thread of one of the greatest of the Old Norse sagas.
By the time 13th-century scribes got around to committing the tale to parchment, the stockfish trade in which Thorolf had been dabbling had become the economic engine for the whole of Norway, accounting for more than 80 percent of the country’s exports, and a source of immense wealth. With medieval Europe’s population rapidly growing and urbanizing, there was an increasing demand for tradable foodstuffs.
A vendor hangs stockfish in a Genoa market. FRANCESCO ZOPPI
Stockfish was the ideal commodity. Lightweight, durable, and highly nutritious, it could last for years without spoiling and be reconstituted quickly by soaking in water. Demand soared. Bergen, a picturesque seaport founded on the cod trade, became Norway’s capital and an important seat in the Hanseatic League, a medieval merchant-trader confederation, with over 2,000 resident members exporting thousands of tons of stockfish each year to Germany, Holland, and England.
While it was the prosperous burghers in town who made most of the profits, the tough peasant fishermen did well too. A man with a boat had his own business, free and clear, with all the lucrative upside that might entail. Reveling in their freedom and spurred by the possibilities of jackpot wealth, these fishermen braved hardships and dangers, sailing north to Lofoten’s cod banks each winter as though it were a gold rush—Norway’s own annual Klondike.
By the turn of the 20th century, more than 30,000 fishermen were flocking to these islands each winter. Grainy black-and-white photographs show Røst’s harbors so jammed with boats that it was possible to walk from one side to the other without getting your feet wet.
“This was Lofoten,” Norwegian author Jan Bojer wrote in his 1921 coming-of-age classic, The Last Viking. “A land in the Arctic Ocean that all the boys along the coast dreamed of visiting someday, a land where exploits were performed, fortunes were made, and where fishermen sailed in a race with Death. Through hundreds of years they had migrated thither, and many of them had lost their lives on the sea. A few returned home with well-filled pockets, but the greater number sailed to the end of life in poverty. Yet they went up again and again, year after year, generation after generation. It was their fairy land of fortune. They had to go.”
Will young Norwegians keep the stockfish lineage alive? COURTESY OLAF JOHAN PEDERSEN
Times have changed. In a world alive with 21st-century opportunities, young Norwegians no longer daydream about scooping fortunes in cod out of icy midwinter seas. Their aspirations lie elsewhere—in safe, comfortable jobs in distant cities. In recent years they’ve been leaving their picturesque fishing villages in droves—not just on Røst or Lofoten, but all over Norway.
Even if they wanted to take up fishing, few could afford it. Buying a cod quota—essentially a commercial license to catch cod—can cost as much as half a million dollars. And then you have to buy your boat and equipment, and hire a crew.
It was always a risky proposition, all the more so in an age of changing climates. “Banks are not keen to lend that kind of money to young people just starting out,” says Pedersen.
Fishing in Norway is increasingly consolidated in the hands of a few old families or companies with deep pockets, while jobs in the fish factories, or hanging the thousands of cod on wooden frames, are increasingly filled by migrants who flock north, much as in the stories of old.
“The face of the stockfish trade has changed a lot over the past few years,” says Olaf Pedersen. “And it will continue to change and evolve. But at the same time, it is still the same business it always was—drying fresh caught cod in the open air.”
Same as it ever was. FRANCESCO ZOPPI
By midnight the day’s catch is hanging on the wooden frames. And under the eerie glow of the Northern Lights begins the age-old curing process that will render it into stockfish.
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