Distributor:  Bullfrog Films
Length:  65 minutes
Date:  2017
Genre:  Expository
Language:  English
Grade level: 10 - 12, College, Adults
Color/BW:  Color
Closed captioning available
Interactive transcript available
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Sacred Cod

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Captures the collapse of the historic cod population in New England, delving into the effects of overfishing, climate change and government policies on fishermen and the fish.

Sacred Cod

For centuries, cod was like gold, driving men to extremes. Cod were so abundant in the waters off New England that fishermen used to say they could walk across the Atlantic on the backs of them, and generations of men from places like Gloucester and Cape Cod spent their entire lives chasing the coveted fish.

In recent decades, something began to change in the Gulf of Maine. As the region's cod catch plummeted, government surveys of the iconic species reported increasingly dire results. Scientists and environmental activists raised alarms about overfishing and the warming ocean. They urged officials to act.

On Nov. 10, 2014, after years of ignoring warnings, NOAA officials banned virtually all cod fishing throughout the region. Fishermen were infuriated. They challenged the findings and accused the government of trying to destroy their livelihood. Environmental activists feared the government's action had come too late to save the cod.

In 2016, officials estimated there were fewer than 200 cod fishermen left in the fleet, and they're now in the fight of their lives, struggling to hold fast to a tradition that has endured for centuries in New England.

Produced by an outstanding team of filmmakers, including the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning environment reporter, David Abel, SACRED COD gives us an up close look at the challenges many will have to face in the age of climate change.

'A powerful, beautiful film that shows the multifaceted aspects of the fishery for this iconic species...The lessons in this documentary extend well beyond the focal region and species. It illustrates how our traditions and life choices color our perspective and collide with what is determined by scientists, managers and policy makers.' Dr. Robert Steneck, Professor of Marine Sciences, University of Maine

'Thoroughly researched, reasoned and surprisingly moving.' Peter Keough, Boston Globe

'Sacred Cod shows us the human and ecological costs caused by New England's ignoring obvious signs of ecological decline over the past four decades. The filmmaker's depiction of fractured families, disrupted communities, and decimated cod stocks demands that we do better. If ever a documentary revealed how closely tied humanity is to the ecosystem on which we rely, this is it.' Dr. Matthew McKenzie, Associate Professor of History, University of Connecticut, Author, Clearing the Coastline: The Nineteenth Century Ecological and Cultural Transformation of Cape Cod

'Sacred Cod impressively captures the complexities of managing this vital natural resource in a changing environment. It gives insight into the sometimes-contentious ways that science, policy, and politics interact when both environmental goods and human livelihoods are at stake. This is a compelling case study for any class involving fisheries or natural resource management.' Kimberly Lai Oremus, Sustainable Development, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

'Remarkably balanced.' Times Herald-Record

'Sacred Cod does a fantastic job compressing the extremely complex and complicated issue of the New England cod fishery into a captivating and enjoyable one hour...A powerful educational tool...I teach undergraduate courses on fisheries policy and marine conservation, which are heavily based on developing critical thinking, and I look forward to showing this documentary to my students.' Dr. Tarsila Seara, Assistant Professor of Marine Affairs, University of New Haven

'The film does a good job of capturing the tension of the different stakeholders in a declining fishery, and it highlights well the disconnect between the 'big picture' stock assessments and the 'local view' of coastal fishers in the western part of the Gulf of Maine.' Karin Limburg, Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

'Sacred Cod will be useful in general environmental management or marine environmental management courses to introduce students to the interrelationships between the marine biological and human aspects of managing the Gulf of Maine fishery. This film should be shown in courses dealing with resource management.' Dr Richard Pollnac, Professor of Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island

'The film breaks my heart as an American and infuriates me as a scientist. The legacy of ignoring scientific advice for decades is the complete destruction of our cultural heritage. I will definitely use this thought-provoking film in my fisheries management classes.' Dr. Janet Nye, Assistant Professor of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University

'If you like documentaries that make you feel for people on every side of the story - regulators, scientists, fishermen, local government officials, the guy who runs the ice factory - Sacred Cod is for you.' Margaret Lyons, The New York Times

'It carries a message that extends well beyond New England: if we're not careful, there may be no more fish to catch.' Heather Goldstone, Atlantic Public Media


Camden International Film Festival
GlobeDocs Film Festival


Main credits

Liss, Steve (film director)
Liss, Steve (cinematographer)
Laub, Andy (screenwriter)
Laub, Andy (film director)
Laub, Andy (editor of moving image work)
Laub, Andy (composer (expression))
Abel, David (film director)
Abel, David (reporter)
Abel, David (film producer)

Other credits

Cinematography by Steve Liss; written, edited, and scored by Andy Laub.

Distributor credits

Cody Wolf Productions

Steve Liss, Andy Laub, David Abel

Cody Wolf Productions
Steve Liss, Andy Laub, David Abel
Director of Photography: Steve Liss
Editor: Andy Laub
Written by: Andy Laub, David Abel
Soundtrack Composer: Andy Laub
Story Produced and Reported by David Abel

Docuseek2 subjects

American Studies
New England
Labor Studies
Local Economies
Fishing Sector
Government Policy
Oceans and Coasts
Climate Change
Resource Planning and Management
Economic Geography
Environmental History
Marine Biology

Distributor subjects

American Studies
Climate Change/Global Warming
Labor and Work Issues
Local Economies
Marine Biology
Oceans and Coasts


cod fishing, cod, New England, overfishing, climate change, government policies, fisheries, historic abundance of cod, fishery collapse, Gloucester, Cape Cod, Gulf of Maine, fish stocks, cod catch plummeting, NOAA officials, cod fishing ban, livelihood destroyed, economics, Massacusetts; "Sacred Cod"; Bullfrog Films

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