Book Review-‘The Cod Hunters’ by J. Goodlad

By Tom Muir, published January 2021


This book tells an extraordinary tale of nineteenth-century social life in the North Atlantic, the hardships and triumphs of ordinary people. Cod fishing was seen as being a particularly hard job, and with good reason. It was not a hollow boast that the ‘cod hunters’ were dubbed ‘iron men in wooden boats’.

The cod fisheries started in the early 1800s, not long after the Napoleonic Wars, and ended just before the First World War. It started with a lucky catch, close to Shetland, which was found to be an area where the cod gathered in huge shoals. The fishing was back-breaking work, as all the fish were caught using hand lines, with two hooks on each line. These large and heavy fish had to be pulled to the surface and landed on the deck. Crew members were usually young men and boys as young as 14. Not only did the fish have to be caught, but they also had to be bled, gutted, beheaded, split and carefully stored in salt to preserve them – no freezer trawlers in those days. Once back in Shetland, fish curers dried the wet salted fish on beaches…

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Filed under: Atlantic
Subjects include: Whaling & Fishing

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