April 13, 2017 — Of the two sacred emblems of Massachusetts — the bean and the cod — the cod gets all the glory but the bean is certainly more environmentally secure.
For centuries fishermen from Gloucester have relied on cod — and the world has relied on them to provide it — but recently scientists have determined that the fish stocks are being depleted at an unsustainable rate and soon there will be no more cod to fish. The fishermen protest that because of the regulations imposed on them, soon there will be no fishermen left to do the fishing.
Andy Laub, Endicott College’s Steve Liss, and Boston Globe reporter David Abel’s thoroughly researched, reasoned and surprisingly moving documentary “Sacred Cod,” premiering Thursday at 9 p.m. on Discovery, gives time to both sides. They offer warm, robust, and sympathetic portraits of these Gloucestermen with their powerful work ethic, fierce love of family, and faith in the American Dream. And they also thoughtfully and thoroughly present the point of view of the bureaucrats and scientists who are trying to do what’s best with the information they have. Emerging as heroes are those willing to consider both sides and seek new solutions.
On one level, the debate comes down to point of view. Based on their extensive research and analysis, the scientists of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the agency studying the problem and issuing regulations, say that the cod stock has declined to a fraction of what it must be to remain sustainable. The fishermen take a more empirical and anecdotal approach; they say that the figures are wrong, that from their experience plenty of cod are still out there. One fisherman takes John Bullard, NOAA’s regional administrator, on a fishing trip. The trawling net disgorges a mountain of fish. “There it is, the elusive cod!” the fisherman scoffs. He tells Bullard that he has just caught his entire annual quota in 45 minutes.