The Atlantic cod is closely tied to the history of Maritime Canada. When European explorers first arrived, they wrote about cod being so plentiful that they could be caught by simply scooping them up in a bucket. Over time, the cod populations declined, and in 1992, a complete ban on cod fishing was declared, following the collapse of the Canadian East Coast cod fishery. Over-fishing, predation by seals and climate change have been proposed as causes of the decrease in cod numbers.
Atlantic cod can grow up to 2 m (6.5 ft.) long. They can weigh up to 95 kg (210 lb.), but typically weigh only 5 kg (10 lb.). They can live up to 24 years.
Atlantic cod come in a variety of colours, including grey, green, red and brown. They have a pale line along the side of their body, called a lateral line. Atlantic cod also have a single whisker-like barbel on their chin.
There are four populations of Atlantic cod in Canada: the Arctic population, the Newfoundland and Labrador population, the Laurentian North population, and the Maritimes population. These four populations are classified separately by COSEWIC (the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) for determining how endangered they are.
Atlantic cod are typically found in continental-shelf waters of the North Atlantic. They feed up to depths of 350 m (1,148 ft.), but tend to swim to shallower waters to spawn.
Atlantic cod mature at five years old. They spawn every year after that, though they will sometimes skip a year.
When Atlantic cod first hatch, the fry eat zooplankton and small crustaceans. As they grow, the young fish eat shrimp and small lobsters. Adults eat mainly herring and capelin.
Seals are the main predator of Atlantic cod. Prior to 1992, Atlantic cod were also a heavily fished species. Their meat is highly valued for eating because it has a mild taste and large flakes.
Historically, Atlantic cod was dried and salted. It was shipped back to Europe as Canada's first real export. Salt cod is still a popular dish today, though it is often made with species other than cod, due to the collapse of the Atlantic cod fisheries.