Lament for an Ocean: The Collapse of the Atlantic Cod Fishery: A True Crime Story

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Lament for an Ocean: The Collapse of the Atlantic Cod Fishery: A True Crime Story

By Michael Harris
Mcclelland & Stewart, 1998
342 pp. $29.99

For nearly 500 years the Grand Banks off Newfoundland was the richest fishery in the world and an apparently inexhaustible source of protein. After a disastrous collapse in its cod stocks, however, it was closed indefinitely in 1992 to allow the stocks to replenish themselves. Six years have brought only faint signs of recovery. Harris recounts vividly the origins of this ecological and economic tragedy and notes that other fisheries around the world are still repeating it. Despite a 20-year-old protective zone around coastal states aimed at improving fisheries management, the economic depletion of these fisheries goes unchecked. There is plenty of blame to go around -- politicians, bureaucrats, marine scientists, foreign (especially Spanish) fishermen, supporting governments, and local fishermen all play a role. Refreshingly, Harris does not target Americans, although they are seriously implicated in the decline of Pacific salmon fisheries. The book recounts in lively prose the always conflicted and sometimes confused decision-making; the fishermen who claim victimhood (while eagerly adopting the latest technology to pursue their prey); the expensive distortions of Canada's social safety net; and the fishing communities' adaptation through migration, skill upgrading, and new economic activities. A cautionary tale, well told, with wide application.

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