Supporting the Health of Our Oceans

Our Best Thinking got us Here


“Probably all the great sea fisheries are inexhaustible; that is to say that nothing we do seriously affects the number of the fish…” Thomas Huxley

This video reminded me of an oral history interview I conducted while I was in graduate school. The man I interviewed was a Tribal Fisheries Director after the time of the historic Judge Boldt decision in US vs. WA. The following is an excerpt from his interview which includes his recollection of a story his aunt told him about overfishing and the canning industry:

In the 1880s they perfected the canning system and then in the 1890s on into the next century they made it illegal for the Indians to fish, and fish traps were located up and down the sound and they would load up scow loads of salmon and bring them to the canneries. Back in about 78 or 79 I asked Aunty Sarah James, she was very old then, what it was like to work at Carlisle Packing Company. She looked at me and she goes, ‘Oh sonny, they brought in scow loads and scow loads, and scow loads in every shift. We just cut the bellies off. The rest was thrown away. Because the belly would lay flat and they would cut into a strip and it would roll up and go in the can. The rest was wasted. Scow loads and scow loads, every day of the week. All season. And they’d dump all the remainder in Bellingham Bay. And at the end of every shift, they still had scow loads of salmon unprocessed, so they’d go dump them in the Bellingham Bay and start all over… because that was Carlisle Packing Company.’ And so of course the stocks were depleted. So when US vs. WA came by there was hardly anything left. And US vs. WA said that we were closed down for conservation and then half of what’s left could be harvested. Half of that could be taken by the non-Indians, and the Indian fleet. Of course the non-Indian’s is a privilege. Ours is a right. The thing is that 90% of our fleet is done and gone.

Here is an amazing and relevant piece written in the New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert back in 2009. She discusses the endangered blue fin tuna in her review of seven books on the ocean’s depleted fish population. I’ve included links to the books she mentions below. I’ve also included a few others that are in the same vein.

Four Fish by Paul Greenberg

Managed Annihilation: An Unnatural History of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse by Dean Bavington

Saved By the Sea: A Love Story with Fish by David Helvarg

From Abundance to Scarcity: A History Of U.S. Marine Fisheries Policy by Michael L. Weber

The Inexhaustible Sea by Hawthorne, Daniel

5 Easy Pieces: The Impact of Fisheries on Marine Ecosystems (The State of the World’s Oceans) by Daniel Pauly

The Unnatural History of the Sea by Dr. Callum Roberts

Empty Ocean by Richard Ellis

The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat by Charles Clover

Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know by Ray Hilborn

To Fish in Common by Daniel L. Boxberger

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