Of catfish and cod

I just watched the documentary Catfish last night. Towards the end one of the “interviewees” relates the story of how live cod, when shipped to China from Alaska, became “mushy” after the long trip. It was discovered that mixing catfish in with them kept them firm and flaky due to being constantly on the move chased by the catfish. Is this true?

One site reviewing the film (possible spoilers if you visit this link) suggests it was an allegory for the film itself:

Another blogger has a short section in one of his blogs (unrelated to the film) that re-tells the story:

Fun story but it doesn’t seem like cod would become “mushy” in so short of a time, if at all. My google-fu sucks, but I was unable to find out if this is really true or not.

BTW, I recommend the film.

I’m not a fish expert and haven’t seen the movie, but cod are saltwater fish and catfish are freshwater fish, so I don’t see how they could live in the same environment.

There are plenty of saltwater catfish. Hundreds of species.

Preserving cod with salt was one of the earliest and largest pre-refrigeration forms of preserving food there was. There’s even a fascinating book about it. They weren’t caught & kept alive - they were cleaned & went through preliminary salting right on the boat.

And they aren’t particularly tasty fish either. Their main advantages were how plentiful they were and how easy they were to preserve.

ETA: So I’m completely questioning the premise of shipping live cod.

I have heard multiple times that fish caught from the ocean are much better than farmed fish for this very reason. I’m prepared to believe that it’s possible.

But which one is the natural enemy of cod? The whole thing sounds like bunk.

I also question that they are cod nemesis. Maybe the catfish kept the water clean by bottom feeding the cod shit. That’s more their baliwick than being a predator.

Also, cod are found and fished in the Atlantic. I doubt that there is much need to ship them from the west to the east coast of the U.S.A. (And I can’t imagine that shipping them alive in huge aquariums could ever be economic.)

The claim is that they were shipped east to west, njtt.

But I’m inclined to agree with preceding comments that the whole thing is bunk, for several reasons. Shipping live fish in water is going to be vastly more expensive than shipping either frozen or salted fish–I expect you’d only bother with live ones for establishing a farm program in controlled waters. Then, shipping fish with their own natural enemies in the same aquarium does not sound like a way to ensure their safe arrival, alive and in one piece. And to my knowledge catfish are scavengers, not the natural enemies of any living fish.

Beyond all that, the narrative of the “documentary” itself sounds dubious. Apparently several viewers have suggested that the filmmakers concocted the whole thing, and they have insisted it’s true. Maybe the bullshit cod story is meant to be the tipoff that, indeed, everything about the movie is a hoax. (I guess that’s what Philip French was saying.) Or, if you like, an extremely meta commentary on the slippery nature of “the truth.”

I’ve never heard of live cod being shipped, but plenty of Pacific cod are shipped around the world. Some people consider the Atlantic cod a better tasting fish, but the Pacific cod are now more plentiful, and supplies are less affected by seasonal variation, and the price per pound is generally lower. The Atlantic cod are primarily caught in coastal waters that are more polluted which concerns some people.

None of that explains the catfish though. Now, if you want to get scrod…

On re-reading, I guess you are right. The quote in the OP is misleadingly written, as it begins by talking about the high demand for cod in the east, whereas what it is actually postulating is a trade driven by demand in the west and supply from the east.

But then again, cod is fished in the North Pacific as well as the Atlantic, so either way a trade between the coasts of North America is unnecessary (or was, back in the days when cod stocks were high). Cod is found on both sides of the continent.

And as you say, many other aspects of the story also seem highly implausible.

Here is a reference to the story although it discusses shipping the fish by boat.

And does that look like a reliable source to you? :dubious:

Stop carping, it’s probably the sole source of the story.

Ooh Ooh! I found one where they **were **shipped to the East Coast!

Riddle me this. If catfish are the natural predators of cod, how did they keep them from, you know, eating the cod? Muzzles? I mean if a catfish can catch a cod in the wide wide ocean, wouldn’t it be short work to catch one in a railcar? Or even easier in the barrels on the slow boats to China?

And what are the *cod *eating while being chased for months in these barrels? Powerbars? Do you see what Lance Armstrong looks like after being chased for 2,000 miles? And he eats 9,000 calories a day. Those cod will be nothing but fins and whiskers by the time they roll into port.

Perhaps they dug it up from Charles Marriott’s 1913 work The Catfish.

But he probably got it from Henry W. Nevinson’s 1909 work Essays in Freedom, later combined in this volume with Essays in Rebellion from 1913.

Ah yes, the catfish, the demon of the deep.

Anyone who has ever tried to keep fish alive, be it in an aquarium or simply a live well on a boat, knows how problematic this can be. Fish require oxygenated water, which would be difficult to maintain in a rail car and virtually impossible in a barrel aboard a ship. I imagine you might be able to keep a single cod alive in a barrel for a day or two, maybe somewhat longer, but not for a sail around the Cape. Similarly, a rail car might maintain a dozen or two full sized cod for a trip across the country. Since dissolved oxygen is inversely proportional to temperature, the venture may be better attempted in winter than summer. Artificial aeration would increase the number of cod, but not dramatically, while adding to the expense incurred.

Either way, it seems impossible to transport an economically viable number of live fish over such a distance by any stated method. You could move a few, surely, but they’d be worth more than gold by the time they reached their destination.

The only realistic method that suggests itself would be a ship equipped with a live well of enormous size, and capable of pumping raw sea water through it constantly, to maintain oxygen levels. I’m pretty confident this would work, but still, the economics seem unlikely to be acceptable.

Wild tuna are caught today and “transported” great distances across the ocean in giant net cages. Oxygen flows in, waste flows out, and the fish remain (usually) alive. They may also be fed and grown to larger size in these fish pens. But this is tuna, highly desirable and commanding premium prices, not cod.

So I question the basic premise of this tale as being economically unsound. Adding catfish would only raise the oxygen requirement or reduce the number of cod that could be kept alive. The whole thing sounds like a non-starter. I’d be very interested to see documentation of any actual attempts in this enterprise. If there were any, I’m betting that they were one-off abysmal failures.

Cod were shipped in live wellsaround the beginning of the 20th century. I don’t think they were shipped in barrels because of the reasons you mention, plus they are a cold water fish and they would die in the summer time unless the water was cooled.

The whole catfish thing is probably made up. If they were Atlantic cod, the catfish would probably be the wolf fish, which is not the natural enemy of the cod.