Anyone who enjoys a firm, yet flaky, easy-to-cook, and hard-fighting fish is a fan of cod. Their abundance and availability in waters spanning all across the mid-northern Atlantic Ocean has made them an important fish in many recreational and commercial fisheries in North America and Europe for centuries. Their quality as a food fish has gained them staple status in cuisines around the world. Fishing on a charter or “party” boat for cod, pollock, ling, whiting, and other bottom and wreck-dwelling fish off of the New York/New Jersey coast was a very popular activity 20+ years ago. One trip could yield enough tasty fish to feed the whole neighborhood for a week.
Then those fish began disappearing from our coast around 20 years ago. Cod and whiting, in particular, were popular fish that simply weren’t being caught. A cod was a VERY rare catch around our way. Recreational charter and party boats were fairly devastated by this. New commercial fishing styles were to blame, as both foreign and domestic boats came to waters off our coast and severely depleted our stocks. After much finger-pointing, bitterness, stricter regulations, and time, NJ boats started advertising cod trips running to waters off of Montauk, NY, where cod seemed to be making a good comeback a couple of years ago. People caught cod, and some faith was restored. In the spring and summer of 2009, some boats quietly picked up an odd cod or two near some deeper water wrecks in our waters. I can proudly say a cod was brought aboard the private boat I regularly fish on last summer by a wreck in the Mudhole that used to be a popular spot for cod and whiting. Things looked better.
This year, cod (in very modest numbers) have become a common, more consistent, even regular catch on recreational bottom fishing boats in New Jersey again. Our regulations and size limits are certainly stricter than they used to be, but seeing as this rather fragile fishery is still very gently on the rebound, I see NO problem with this whatsoever. We’re very lucky to have these fish slowly coming back into our lives as New Jersey saltwater fishermen. A trip to the same wreck that gave us a cod last summer gave us two large pollock and a small cod on a recent trip this year. The numbers and size of cod taking up residence in our waters is nowhere even approaching what it used to be, at the moment. And we have not been lucky enough to have whiting back as a regular catch. But the rebounding cod certainly offers at least a glimmer of hope for New Jersey fishermen, and prove the potentially tasty reward for patience and conservation on the water.