Facts and Fish

January 18th, 2011  / Author: admin

I teach world history and over Christmas break I found myself working on a lecture about history–what is history, how do we do it, and how has the writing of history changed over time. I found myself going back to a classic work, What is History,  Edward Hallett Carr, published in 1961. I found this wonderful quotation:

“History consists of a corpus of ascertained facts. The facts are available…in documents, inscriptions, and so on, like fish on the fishmonger’s slab. The historian collects them, takes them home, and cooks and serves them in whatever style appeals to him.”

Among the new books where historians are serving fish is Clearing the Coastline: The Nineteenth-Century Ecological & Cultural Transformation of Cape Cod, by Matthew McKenzie of the University of ConnecticutMatt, Avery Point. This is sitting at the top of a precarious stack of books on my desk. Matt takes a look at how Cape Cod was transformed from a barren agricultural wasteland into a bountiful fishery. At the same time, he examines the tensions between fishing and other land uses, and the evolving understanding of the marine ecosystem.

“Cape Cod’s nineteenth-century transformation reveals to us all that labor, environment, science, culture, and ecology are intimately intertwined. Fishermen were part of a larger ecological, social, and cultural context that also affected how and how intensely they took … Continue Reading »

“An Enormous, Immensely Complicated Intervention”

February 6th, 2010  / Author: admin

dykstraThere is no question that fisheries management is “An enormously, immensely complicated intervention,” as Spencer Apollonio and Jacob Dykstra write in their new book about the New England Fishery Management Council. Both authors have long experience with the council: Dykstra was involved in creating the council and a member for seven years, while Apollonio is a marine biologist who has worked for a state management organization and the first director of the New England council. Their backgrounds are different but they are in agreement that the management system doesn’t work and they have written a book that explores why.

Their catchy title phrase comes from one of the best books about fishery management, Industry in Trouble, written by Margaret Dewar in 1983 about the New England fisheries.  

They are critical of Maximum Sustained Yield, or MSY, which is at the scientific heart of American fisheries management. They write that it systematically removes large, old, slow-growing fish from a population, leaving a preponderance of young, fast-growing fish. This will allow the population to reach its greatest natural rate of increase, thus providing the maximum sustainable harvest. The difficulty is that such an attenuated population can attain the largest growth rate, but it is not sustainable. The younger fish population may begin to oscillate, shifting the population into “a lower hierarchical level with inherently faster dynamics … Continue Reading »

Dutch Herring, An Environmental History

December 25th, 2009  / Author: admin

Bo's coverDutch Herring, An Environmental History, Bo Poulsen, (Amsterdam: Aksant Publishing, 2008).

This is a totally cool book, one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read about fishing. I always assumed that the Dutch herring fishery, the largest and most sophisticated fishery in the world between 1600 and 1860, ended because of overfishing, and according to Poulsen, that’s wrong.   It’s much too simple an explanation.

Between 1550 and 1650, the Dutch Republic was the most modern economy and leading trading nation in Europe and the herring fishery played a vital role in this success. In the 1560s, a number of towns formed a political body, the College van de Grote Visserij, which was granted jurisdiction over the entire herring industry, from catching to processing, marketing, and distribution of salted herring. The College regulated the size and use of fishing gear and the length of the seasons, with the goal of upholding the quality of the best brand of salted herring in Europe.

Poulsen, who earned his doctorate at the University of Southern Denmark in 2006, learned Dutch so he could navigate the College’s vast historical archive for his historical reconstruction. Tax records from southern Netherlands towns provided precise landing records. Norwegian export statistics allowed for the reconstruction of salted herring production in Norway between 1650 and 1850. Export figures and accounts of … Continue Reading »

Shaping the Shoreline, by Connie Y. Chiang

December 25th, 2009  / Author: admin

chiang coverShaping the Shoreline: Fisheries and Tourism on the Monterey Coast, Connie Y. Chiang, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008).

There is always tension between the fishing and tourism industries. The tourists like to have a bit of the industry atmosphere (scenic boats at anchor) but not too much atmosphere (no smells). The industry generally curses the tourists, but recognizes that visitors play an important role in sustaining the local economy, which often means  not being able to find a parking spot near the dock.  When the two industries collide, as they have done in spectacular fashion in Monterey, California, over the last century, it can make for not only interesting history, but insightful marine policy.

Connie Chiang takes a look at the two industries, from the days of 1879 when Robert Louis Stevenson extolled the “spectacle of Ocean’s greatness,” to the present, where the Monterey Aquarium draws millions of visitors a year to its site on an old sardine cannery. It’s easy for the industries to be critical of each other, but as Chiang points out, the development of both industries show how deeply entangled social and environmental histories can be. Each industry jostled for control over the coastline, seeing it as a commodity that could be controlled and marketed to consumers. The two industries are far more entangled that they … Continue Reading »

The Marine Fisheries Review / Soviet Whaling

November 12th, 2009  / Author: admin

Soviet Whaling

Dr Phil Clapham of the National Marine Mammal Lab became involved in this effort during a post-doctoral fellowship with Dr Bob Brownell in 1995. Beginning in 2006, Yulia Ivashchenko (now Phil’s wife) joined the project to translate formerly secret Soviet scientific reports (Ivashchenko et al. 2007). She followed this with translation of Fred Berzin’s remarkable memoir on Soviet whaling, which was published at the end of 2008 (Ivashchenko et al. 2008).