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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 12:49 GMT
The fishy tale of cod

Quotas for catches of cod in the North Sea have been slashed by 40%, for fear that the once common fish could disappear all together. Though a staple of the British diet, what do you know about the humble cod?

1) There are more than 200 species of cod. The Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) can grow to 1.8m (6ft) and weigh 91kg. Provided it doesn't land up served with chips, a cod may live to be 30 years old.

Fish and chips
You shall have a fishy ... on a polystyrene dishy
2) Cod 'n' chips may be our national dish, but the majority of cod we eat in the UK is caught in waters off Iceland, northern Norway and Russia. Only about 30% of the cod consumed here is fished from the North Sea.

3) The cod's flesh is so white and tasty because of its infamous sloth. It swims as little as possible, preferring to go with the flow. The fish produces its own antifreeze, which allows it to exist in icy waters with minimal effort.

4) The lazy cod tends not to chase its food, instead choosing to prey on any fish or invertebrate unlucky enough to cross its path.

5) Last summer, workers at a fish factory in Queensland, Australia, cut open the stomach of a 6ft cod to find an intact human head in its stomach.

6) Cod stocks first began to take a bashing thanks to the medieval Catholic church - which deemed the fish suitable food to be consumed on "lean" days. Eating meat was forbidden on Fridays and throughout Lent.

7) Its flesh is not the only product harvested from the cod. Cod liver oil is rich in vitamin D and contains special fatty acids - which are said to ease the inflammation of arthritic joints.

8) The British love affair with cod 'n' chips began in the 1830s. By the 1930s, British fishermen brought home 300,000 tonnes of cod annually. EU officials say today there are only 70,000 tonnes of adult cod left in the North Sea.

Fishing trawler
"That's not Iceland over there, is it?"
9) The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 gave North Sea cod stocks a rare opportunity to recover. Even before the war, British trawlers had to sail further afield to find the fish.

10) Other nations have not always welcomed the British fishing fleet. There have been three so-called "cod wars" in the waters around Iceland.

In the last of these, the Icelandic authorities imposed a 200-mile exclusion zone to protect their Arctic fishing grounds.

Throughout 1976 Royal Navy frigates and Icelandic gunboats were sent to accompany the rival fleets. In five months, there were 35 ramming incidents as the Icelandic Coast Guard cut 46 British nets. The European Community later endorsed the 200-mile fishing limit.

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15 Dec 00 | Europe
EU slashes fish catches
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