Alaskan Cod and How It is Different
Shrimp and salmon are the most commonly consumed types of seafood in the United States, but cod is up there, too! Many of us have eaten cod, but do you know the difference between Alaskan and Atlantic cod? let’s take a look at the main types, including Alaskan cod and how it is different.
Things to Know about Atlantic Cod
Atlantic cod, or Gadus morhua is sourced in the New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast waters of the U.S. It’s one of the best-studied marine fishes, and we know quite a bit about how Atlantic cod behave.
They often reach lengths of at least 6.5 feet, and commonly weigh over 200 pounds. Atlantic cod is a predatory fish that spends much of its time on the seafloor, eating bony fishes, lobsters, and invertebrates. Like Alaskan halibut, adult Atlantic cod have two main predators—large sharks and humans!
Speaking of which, Atlantic cod is quite the iconic fish in the regions it’s found. It’s actually where the name Cape Cod came from! Unfortunately, they’re so iconic that stocks have declined dramatically in recent years. In fact, Atlantic cod are considered to be overfished. As such, fishing rates have been reduced and there’s a target to rebuild the Atlantic cod population to healthy levels by 2024.
Things to Know about Pacific Cod
Gadus macrocephalus is the name for Pacific cod, which is found along the West Coast of the U.S., and in Alaskan waters. Like Atlantic cod, they tend to be found near the seafloor, but sometimes come into shallower water in the spring (where they spawn).
Pacific cod thrive on many marine species, including juvenile fish, crabs, shrimp, clams, and even worms! Unlike Atlantic cod, Pacific cod (including Alaskan cod) is not currently overfished, and in fact, is considered a smart seafood choice.
Also dissimilar to Atlantic cod, Pacific cod are generally much smaller, on average reaching just six feet in length and, while they can reach weights of up to 50 pounds, they’re often fished when they’re around 11 pounds.
Is Atlantic or Pacific Cod Better?
The most important thing to consider when it comes to the Atlantic vs Pacific cod debate is that the former is, and has been, overfished—meaning that Atlantic cod is vulnerable to extinction. In fact, a recent study reported that by 2050, we could see cod become extinct in some fisheries, like the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which feeds into the Atlantic ocean. This is why it’s important to look for sustainable seafood!
Although it’s the second largest commercial catch in Alaska, and virtually all of the U.S., Pacific cod is sustainably managed and has either above target population levels, or those that are growing. Of the four main stocks of Pacific cod—Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands, and Pacific Coast—none are currently being overfished.
Atlantic cod fish can live for more than 20 years, and are capable of reproduction by just two or three years old. Shockingly, larger females can produce as much as a whopping nine million eggs when they spawn!
On the other hand, Pacific cod need to reach an age of either four or five years old before being able to produce, and an average female will produce more than one million eggs when they spawn.
Pacific cod is a great source of protein, vitamin B12, niacin, and phosphorus. It’s also low in fat.
Atlantic cod is much the same, but contains more calories (105 vs 82 calories, per 100 grams) and also has more protein.
Both types of cod are high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D, and E. They’re also a good source of potassium, selenium, and other trace minerals. Compared with Alaskan salmon, cod has significantly less calories, but also has less omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s generally thought that Atlantic cod has a slightly sweeter taste than Pacific cod, and is more flaky, too. They also have a silvery subcutaneous layer not found in Pacific cod, which makes it slightly firmer, less oily, and less moist.
Pacific cod is a more savoury, mild-tasting fish. When cooked it is lean and flaky. Compared to Atlantic cod, it’s got a bit more moisture, making the meat less firm. When raw, Pacific cod appears creamy white and opaque, becoming white when cooked. However, because it’s not bled after being caught, it’s typically not as white as Atlantic cod.
Alaskan Cod: What’s Unique About It?
Like all types of cod, Alaskan cod is high in protein, several vitamins and minerals, and omega-3’s.
The highest quality of cod is captured when the flavor and nutrition are retained. For this reason, many Alaskan trawlers use refrigerated seawater tanks before processing the fish on shore. As you can imagine, this solution contains a lot of salt, meaning that the resulting cod is tastier—but is also high in sodium (roughly 316 milligrams in a 3-ounce serving).
Like the other types of cod, Alaskan cod fish has a mild flavor and a delicate texture. It’s also thought to be slightly whiter and more sweet than Atlantic cod, and has a firm, flaky body that’s perfect for fish and chips.
That being said, it’s got plenty of delicious flavor on its own and doesn’t need a lot added to it! A simple spritz of olive oil and a small squeeze of lemon juice is more than enough to have a tasty meal.
Sustainability and the Future of Alaskan Cod
Unfortunately, Pacific cod—including Alaskan cod—is considered to be highly sensitive to climate change. Warmer temperatures are associated with unsuccessful spawning, limited recruitment, and population shifts.
In 2017, NOAA Fisheries scientists reported the first alarming drop in the numbers of Alaskan adult cod, caused by what’s called a “Blob marine heatwave.” This leads to slower growth for juvenile Alaskan cod, and can ultimately diminish their survival. While this warm water period lasted from 2014-2016, our rapidly changing climate means we could possibly see it again.
If we want to keep enjoying this tasty seafood, it’s important to do what we can to consume sustainable fish, like responsibly-sourced Alaskan cod and Alaskan salmon.