296 pages, 24 illustrations, 1 map
In "The Fishermen's Frontier:, David Arnold examines the economic, social, cultural, and political context in which salmon have been harvested in southeast Alaska over the past 250 years. The book is about Native and Euro-American fishermen, local fishing communities, industrialists, and resource managers and the ways in which these various groups have imagined, shaped, exploited, and managed the salmon fishery and its resources, arranging it to conform to understandable patterns of social organization and endowing it with cultural meaning.
The transformation of the salmon fishery in south-eastern Alaska from an aboriginal resource to an industrial commodity was fraught with historical ironies. Tribal peoples--usually considered egalitarian and communal in nature--managed their fisheries with a strict notion of property rights, while Euro-Americans--so vested in the notion of property and ownership--established a "common-property" fishery when they arrived in the late nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, federal conservation officials tried to rationalize the fishery by "improving" upon nature and promoting economic efficiency, but their uncritical embrace of scientific planning and their disregard for local knowledge degraded salmon habitat and encouraged a backlash from small-boat fishermen, who clung to their "irrational" ways.
Meanwhile, Indian and white commercial fishermen engaged in identical labours, but established vastly different work cultures and identities based on competing notions of "work" and "nature". Arnold concludes with a sobering analysis of the threats to present-day fishing cultures by forces beyond their control. However, the salmon fishery in south-eastern Alaska is still very much alive, entangling salmon, fishermen, industrialists, scientists, and consumers in a living web of biological and human activity that has continued for thousands of years.
This ambitious and multifaceted book provides a sweeping history of the southeastern Alaska fishery and the people who oriented their lives around it, breaking down conventional boundaries by incorporating Indian, labor, and environmental history, all the while addressing some of the most important themes in western scholarship.
- American Historical Review
"Books about fish tend to be tales of decline. A welcome exception is David's F. Arnold's portrait of the small-boat fishery and fishermen of Southeast Alaska. It is a fishery that is ecologically healthy, if not necessarily economically sound, and if that seems to be a paradox, that is because it is a fishing culture as varied and changeable as the fish themselves. Arnold's is a thoughtful and insightful examination."
- Oregon Historical Quarterly
"Because 'The Fisherman's Frontier' looks beyond the classic role of the fishery in Alaska and, instead, tells a story of fishermen and how their relationship with the natural environment changed over time, Alaskans as well as the many folk who make their living fishing northern waters will appreciate this book."
- Katherine Johnson Ringsmuth, author of "Snug Harbor Cannery: A Beacon on the Forgotten Shore, 1919-1980"
"Arnold has presented a complete story, chronologically, topically, and historiographically. He has managed to give the reader a unified grasp of an extraordinarily complex and often contentious element in environmental and regional history. This book is really a tour de force."
- Stephen Haycox, author of "Alaska: An American Colony"
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