Over the past week, I cruised around the various fish markets and grocery stores across the Island to find out where to buy local codfish. On 5 Martin Road sits John’s Fish Market and Sandy’s Fish & Chips. I drove into the crowded parking lot and bought a loin of codfish. While there, I spoke with Sandy’s Fish & Chips owner Samantha Lowe about a captain’s cut of codfish.
According to Lowe, the captain’s cut is a thick loin more evenly distributed across the fish. They sell codfish at the hybrid fish market and restaurant for $20.49 per pound. Lowe mentioned while weighing and bagging my order that it’s getting harder and harder to find codfish locally, due to low fish populations.
A few days later, I returned to interview the owner of John’s Fish Market, Glenn Pachico, about the local history of commercial and recreational cod fishing.
“It was basically you go out and catch [the codfish] recreationally to eat. It was right off East Chop, three miles, and you could go up to Gay Head and catch them,” Pachico said, describing his early days of fishing around the Island.
Pachico described that in the 1970s, there weren’t many rules for the amount of codfish you could catch, besides the size limit on the smaller fish. Glenn’s father was taking him out to Middle Ground in East Chop around this time.
“Then in the ’80s, there were guys tub-trawling; my friend started tub-trawling. They had lobster boats, and in the winter, we would bait tubs and sit around and shoot the breeze,” Pachico said. “I think in those days, they would come in with a couple thousand pounds; it was pretty fun and a lot of work baiting, but you didn’t need a permit to do that. You had a state card to sell, and now they have really strict guidelines.”
Pachico described how cod fishing has turned into a recreational fish, but commercial fishermen have a Coastal Access Permit, which includes round fish landings. Although the landings are limited, local commercial fishermen are allowed 1,000 lbs. for 19-inch codfish.
“The flat net you towed on the flat bottom, the way it was set up, it’s got small little rubber cookies on it, so it would just kick up the stuff on the bottom, whereas the rockhoppers are made to roll over Volkswagens. So it takes away any sanctuary that [the cod] used to have, and that was really the beginning of the end,” Pachico said. “So you had big money, you had a big boat, and you had a big net.”
As of May 12, if you want to go recreational fishing for codfish, the current limit with a permit issued by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries sits at 10 21-inch cod. The price of codfish varies across the Island, with the range set between $9.99 for codfish filets sold at Stop & Shop sourced from Alaska to as high as $21.99 flown in from Iceland.
“On the Cape, we always had jigged cod, tub-trawl cod, and they would ship it to Bourne and here and there if they caught that much, that’s better, then all of them got regulated out too. Very limited what you can get,” Pachico said.
Like the gluten-free buns sold at Sandy’s Fish & Chips, I made this New England classic with gluten-free in mind, to accommodate the diets of my friends and coworkers. The journey led me to From the Ground Up Cauliflower Crackers flavored with sea salt, gluten-free and plant-based.
Gluten-Free Baked Codfish
1 lb. captain’s cut codfish
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ cup of crushed cauliflower crackers
2 tsp. fresh parsley
1 tsp. ground black pepper
olive oil spray
Melt two tablespoons of butter in a small bowl for 10 to 15 seconds. Blend with lemon juice, chopped parsley, and black pepper. Heat the convection oven to 375°; the circulated air helps bake the codfish loin evenly.
Spray a light coating of olive oil onto a baking dish, then crush the cauliflower crackers. I crushed them by hand, but if you prefer a finer topping, you can beat the bagged crackers, or crush them with a rolling pin in the bag, and save what’s left over for another dish. Coat the codfish with the cracker crumbs.
Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the top is browned. Let cool for five minutes. Serve with your favorite combo of vegetables, perfect at a potluck or with friends.