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The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sailby W Jeffrey Bolster
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Bolster, an associate professor at the University of New Hampshire where he teaches early American history, demonstrates detailed research of the New England fishing industry from the 16th century to the early 20th century, including excerpts from centuries-old reports, from 'Renaissance seafarers' and countless history texts to newspaper accounts and fishery management publications and data. But he weaves the story of the common fishermen — those who relied on the ocean to survive and today's fishermen who 'are descendants of the oldest continually operated business enterprise in the New World' — into his tale to create a story that is personal as well as informative. This varied collection of information makes for an exhaustive and scholarly analysis of marine history and demonstrates that problems of environmental stress and overfishing have confronted humans since they arrived in these waters and continue to this day. By demonstrating the 'catastrophic changes in the sea' over the past 400-plus years, Bolster has created a work that is not only a comprehensive chronicling of North Atlantic fishing but also a harrowing cautionary tale of human consumption and a challenge to those who have the final chance to restore 'our exhausted seas.'" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Since the time of the Vikings, the Atlantic has shaped the lives of people who depend on it for survival, and people have shaped the Atlantic. In his account of this interdependency, 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.
2013 Bancroft Prize, Columbia University
About the Author
W. Jeffrey Bolster is Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire.
University of New Hampshire
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