Most current fishing practices are neither economically nor biologically sustainable. Every year, the world spends $80 billion buying fish that cost $105 billion to catch, even as heavy fishing places growing pressure on stocks that are already struggling with warmer, more acidic oceans. How have we developed an industry that is so wasteful, and why has it been so difficult to alter the trajectory toward species extinction?
In this transnational, interdisciplinary history, Carmel Finley answers these questions and more as she explores how government subsidies propelled the expansion of fishing from a coastal, in-shore activity into a global industry. While nation states struggling for ocean supremacy have long used fishing as an imperial strategy, the Cold War brought a new emphasis: fishing became a means for nations to make distinct territorial claims. A network of trade policies and tariffs allowed cod from Iceland and tuna canned in Japan into the American market, destabilizing fisheries in New England and Southern California. With the subsequent establishment of tuna canneries in American Samoa and Puerto Rico, Japanese and American tuna boats moved from the Pacific into the Atlantic and Indian Oceans after bluefin. At the same time, government subsidies in nations such as Spain and the Soviet Union fueled fishery expansion on an industrial scale, with the Soviet fleet utterly depleting the stock of rosefish (or Pacific ocean perch) and other groundfish from British Columbia to California. This massive global explosion in fishing power led nations to expand their territorial limits in the 1970s, forever changing the seas.
Looking across politics, economics, and biology, All the Boats on the Ocean casts a wide net to reveal how the subsidy-driven expansion of fisheries in the Pacific during the Cold War led to the growth of fisheries science and the creation of international fisheries management. Nevertheless, the seas are far from calm: in a world where this technologically advanced industry has enabled nations to colonize the oceans, fish literally have no place left to hide, and the future of the seas and their fish stocks is uncertain.
Introduction: Political Roles for Fish Populations
1. The Fishing Empires of the Pacific: The Americans, the Japanese, and the Soviets
2. Islands and War
3. Manifest Destiny and Fishing
Conclusions: Updating the Best Available Science
Carmel Finley is a newspaper reporter turned historian of science who teaches in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. She is coeditor of Two Paths toward Sustainable Forests: Public Values in Canada and the United States and the author of All the Fish in the Sea: Maximum Sustainable Yield and the Failure of Fisheries Management, the latter published by the University of Chicago Press. She lives in Corvallis, OR.
"Finley makes her point – that government subsidies to deep-sea fishing are a main cause of the current catastrophe – dramatically clear. Her descriptions of the damage that factory trawlers did to the ocean floor and the speed with which they wiped out fisheries in the '60s and '70s are especially powerful. Relevant not only to people who are interested in fisheries and oceans, but also to those concerned with global resource crises generally, this interdisciplinary, pragmatic book surpasses most of the work of historians in this area. Synthesizing scientific material with international law and politics, as well as the internal affairs of government agencies and private businesses, Finley links the fisheries story to the 'great transformation' of global ecology in the postwar period by way of the technology, policy, and politics of food production. All the Boats on the Ocean is a significant, original book."
– Arthur McEvoy, Southwestern Law School, author of The Fisherman's Problem: Ecology and Law in the California Fisheries, 1850-1980
"In this compact and highly readable book, Finley argues that overfishing since the 1950s is less a tragedy of the commons than a tragedy of the Cold War. She shows how geopolitics, science, law, and greed combined to generate a scramble for the oceans and a regime of overfishing that lasts to this day. A welcome addition to several scholarly literatures."
– J. R. McNeill, Georgetown University, author of Something New under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World
"Those of us who thought we understood how the oceans' plight came about will find much that is new in this thoroughly researched and highly engaging work. Weaving history, politics, and science, Finley shows how the seeds of the current predicament were sown during the Cold War Era, as government subsidies fueled the rapid acceleration of fishing. Her call for a reinterpretation of the role of fishing within government is long overdue. A must-read."
– Ellen Pikitch, Stony Brook University