Washington, D.C.-based Blue Circle Foods has always only sold cod certified by the Washington, D.C.-based sustainability watchdog group Marine Stewardship Council, says David Pilat, Blue Circle’s vice president of business development.
“They set the standard for sustainable fishing for many companies,” Pilat says. “We used to sell just MSC-certified Norwegian cod, but we expanded into also selling a lot of MSC Icelandic cod.”
(There are still some small cod fisheries in New England, but most of today’s Atlantic cod comes from Norway and Iceland, Pilat says.)
Regardless of the country it comes from, all Blue Circle cod is sourced from sustainable fisheries, Pilat says. And Blue Circle cod products prominently display the blue MSC oval logo to let retailers and their customers know that the strictest standards have been followed.
“What we’ve seen is that folks want that MSC label. That’s been a big change — though MSC has been around for years.”
Both Norway and Iceland, Pilat says, produce high-quality cod with good size that freezes extremely well. Blue Circle markets product at retail in 2 lb packs, 4-count packs and in club packs.
“Cod is one of those fish that freezes very well, thaws nicely, and can be used in so many preparations,” he says.
The 4-packs and other smaller packs are definitely an emphasis for Blue Circle, Pilat says. Whether product is marketed frozen depends largely on the market.
“In the Northeast we see both fresh and frozen cod. In other parts of the country they may sell only previously frozen or they may sell fresh — it varies by region.”
Cod freezes so well, most North American markets demand at least some frozen produce, he says. “It’s so easy to come home from the grocery store, put it in the freezer, then pull it out one day you can’t get back to the store.”
Cod, a longtime industry stalwart, is holding its own in today’s market, Pilat says. After a bit of a lull in recent years, it’s actually started to make a comeback of sorts.
“For a while, you heard a lot of stories about cod being overfished,” he says. “I think folks switched to the tilapias of the world. But cod has made a comeback in the last five years now that there are MSC fisheries.”
People love cod, and as long as they know that the fisheries that produce it aren’t being overfished they’ll buy it, Pilat says.
“One of the interesting things about not only cod but also haddock is that they’re available year-round,” he says. “In summer people like to bake cod, which is interesting because it’s hot out. And in winter you see cod on many menus. And it’s consistent” regardless of the season, he adds.
Pollock emerges from cod’s shadow
It’s hard to argue with cod’s popularity, but Seattle-based Trident Seafoods Corp. is bullish on another fish that’s often compared to cod.
Trident offers 10 pollock products for retail, including its Wild Caught Alaskan Pollock and Wild Caught Alaskan Pollock Skillet Cuts for the seafood section as well as value-added products like pollock burgers, fish sticks and sandwiches.
“Although it’s one of the most consumed seafood species in the U.S., wild Alaska pollock has long lived in the shadow of its more recognizable cousin—the cod,” according to Trident. “Pollock is a delicious, flaky fish, as versatile as it is nutritious.”
Also known as walleye pollock, Pacific pollock or Pacific tomcod, the Alaska Pollock is not to be confused with the Atlantic Pollock, a darker, oilier fish that is actually a different species.
“It’s a great source of protein and in the low-risk category for environmental toxins, such as mercury and pesticides,” according to Trident. “It’s the most abundant and sustainable species on the planet. Wild Alaska pollock brings endless possibilities to your plate.”
Caught in the icy waters off Alaska, Alaska pollock has a mild flavor and flaky texture that can be grilled, pan-fried or deep-fried. It’s often used as a substitute for cod, but pollock is smaller and more delicate — and to many, according to Trident, even tastier.
In its marketing to customers and consumers, Trident highlights the variety’s health benefits. At only 80 calories per serving, for instance, one 4 oz pollock fillet provides 19 grams of protein and 70 mg of Omega-3. Pollock is also a great source for other nutrients, including:
Vitamin B-12 (promotes healthy brain function)
Amino Acids (strengthens your immune system)
Phosphorous (works with calcium to maintain your bones and teeth)
Selenium (protects your body from infection)
Given its low level of contaminants and abundance of health benefits, Alaska public health officials frequently advocate for unrestricted consumption of wild Alaska pollock for people of all ages.
Haddock carves out its niche
Haddock is more of a niche item, says David Pilat, vice president of business development for Washington, D.C.-based Blue Circle Foods. But in certain regions, the variety is very popular.
“Haddock is a big winner in the Midwest, New York and New England,” Pilat says. “I love haddock, it’s a great fish.”
Like cod, haddock freezes very well, but some regions prefer to market it fresh, he adds. For many customers, the taste of haddock makes a big difference.
“Haddock and cod are very similar, but a lot of people think haddock is a little bit sweeter and the flakes on it are a little big larger. It’s just a delicious fish.”