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article imageOp-Ed: Mark Kurlansky — It is 'Time to Wake up and Smell the Fish’

By Igor I. Solar     Apr 24, 2011 in Entertainment
I just finished reading a borrowed, autographed copy of Mark Kurlansky's book entitled “Cod, A biography of the fish that changed the world” and decided that this is a book that I must have in my shelf so I can read it again. I purchased my own copy.
I like fish and I like history. This book has the perfect match to meet my inclinations. Over the years I have followed the dismal man-made near demise of this wonderful fish. Reading more about how this came about it's a very interesting account.
The book tells many interesting episodes in cod's history: the secret cod fishing grounds of the Basques, the cod wars of the Icelanders and the British, the White Fishing Fleet of the Portuguese, the exhaustion of the cod stocks by the Newfoundlanders, and many other historical facts in between.
It also tells about human stories of heroism and perseverance, such as the lonely fisherman, Alfred Johnson, who crossed the Atlantic from Gloucester to Abercastle, Wales, in a sixteen-foot boat in 58 days. Or the story of Howard Blackburn, a Nova Scotia dory man who, with his solid-frozen fingers shaped around the oars of his boat after becoming lost at sea in a snowstorm, rowed 100 miles to Newfoundland so he could save his own life and bring his fishing mate's frozen corpse back to land.
I enjoyed reading this book. It's interesting and also very timely, not only around the date of its publication (1997), but mostly now, when an estimated 75 percent of the major marine fish species are considered fully exploited, over exploited or significantly depleted.
Unfortunately, this is not required reading for politicians and for fishery industrialists. The book delivers a historic perspective of the inexhaustible capabilities for mismanagement of fisheries administrators, industrialists and coastal fishermen around the world that view natural resources as a form of capital to be mined concerned only by the cost of extraction, without re-investing for future generations or having regard for the animals that should be respected not only for the enjoyment of future generations, but also because they fully deserve it as biological entities.
Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) has been an important traded commodity in international markets since th...
Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) has been an important traded commodity in international markets since the Viking period. Now is in the list of endangered species.
Hans-Petter Fjeld
There are so many good things about this book that one may be inclined to overlook a couple of errors. However, I choose to comment on them:
In page 223 Kurlansky says: "A shark is not a fish." Actually, a shark is a fish. It's a different kind of fish, with a cartilaginous skeleton (a Chondrichthyes), but as much a fish as a cod with a bony skeleton (an Osteichthyes).
In page 122, Kurlansky refers to the address delivered by Thomas Henry Huxley at the Great International Fishery Exhibition in London in 1883, “explaining why overfishing was an unscientific and erroneous fear”. It is true that T.H. Huxley said in the paper presented: "The cod fishery, the herring fishery, the pilchard fishery, the mackerel fishery, and probably all the great sea fisheries, are inexhaustible; that is to say that nothing we do seriously affects the number of fish. And any attempt to regulate these fisheries seems consequently... to be useless".
Cover of Mark Kuslansky s book:  The Big Oyster  History on the Half Shell
Cover of Mark Kuslansky's book: "The Big Oyster, History on the Half Shell"
However those words should be taken in the context of the times. In the 19 century the world's population was about one billion, the technological capabilities of the British fishing fleet were limited, environmental pollution and damage to the oceans were still low. Under those circumstances the oceans’ productivity could perhaps be considered unthreatened and even inexhaustible. In fact, Huxley is reported as later on discussing depletion of some fish populations and he chaired several commissions that were established to investigate over-fishing.
New book: World Without Fish
Other works by Kurlansky are “Salt: A World History” (2002) and “The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell” (2006).
More recently, Kurlansky published his latest book “World Without Fish”, dealing with what is happening to fish, the oceans, and our environment, and what, by using this knowledge, people and kids can do to help. (Hardcover, 192 pages; illustrated by Frank Stockton, for kids 9-12, Workman Publishing Company; First Edition, April 1, 2011).
Cover of Mark Kuslansky s book:  World Without Fish
Cover of Mark Kuslansky's book: "World Without Fish"
Susan Perren in a recent review about World without Fish in the Globe and Mail says: "There's history here, of fish and fishing, in fascinating detail going back centuries. But there's a future as well if we act now: The final chapter, Time to Wake up Smell the Fish, offers a number of prods to potentially productive activism."
Scientific American recommends this book by saying: “This beautifully illustrated children’s book explains how fish came to be so imperiled, how their decline affects other organisms, and what people can do about it.”
Amazon’s book description explains: “Written by a master storyteller, World Without Fish connects all the dots - biology, economics, evolution, politics, climate, history, culture, food, and nutrition - in a way that kids can really understand. It covers the effects of industrialized fishing, and how bottom-dragging nets are turning the ocean floor into a desert.”
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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