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The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail

The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail

"A great and surprisingly readable history of New England fishing from its beginnings until the early 20th century. It turns out that overfishing, together with the underlying assumption that fish stocks would always somehow renew themselves, has been a problem for over 150 years and more. Demand, greed, technological advances, and sheer ignorance about what was actually happening underwater combined to create a situation in which species after species of fish was harvested to near-depletion. The current crisis has deep roots. This is an eye-opening book."

Alan H.

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Author W. Jeffrey Bolster
Publisher Belknap Press
Publication Date 2014-05-05
Section New Titles - Paperback / US History / All Staff Suggestions / Non-Fiction Suggestions / Alan H.
Type New
Format Paperback
ISBN 9780674283961

Since the Viking ascendancy in the Middle Ages, the Atlantic has shaped the lives of people who depend upon it for survival. And just as surely, people have shaped the Atlantic. In his innovative account of this interdependency, W. Jeffrey Bolster, a historian and professional seafarer, takes us through a millennium-long environmental history of our impact on one of the largest ecosystems in the world.

While overfishing is often thought of as a contemporary problem, Bolster reveals that humans were transforming the sea long before factory trawlers turned fishing from a handliner's art into an industrial enterprise. The western Atlantic's legendary fishing banks, stretching from Cape Cod to Newfoundland, have attracted fishermen for more than five hundred years. Bolster follows the effects of this siren's song from its medieval European origins to the advent of industrialized fishing in American waters at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Blending marine biology, ecological insight, and a remarkable cast of characters, from notable explorers to scientists to an army of unknown fishermen, Bolster tells a story that is both ecological and human: the prelude to an environmental disaster. Over generations, harvesters created a quiet catastrophe as the sea could no longer renew itself. Bolster writes in the hope that the intimate relationship humans have long had with the ocean, and the species that live within it, can be restored for future generations.

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