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The Mortal Sea

The Mortal Sea

Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail

W. Jeffrey Bolster

ISBN 9780674283961

Publication date: 05/05/2014

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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.

Praise

  • The Mortal Sea chronicles the history of the fishing industry in the North West Atlantic over the past 500 years. Based on a comprehensive set of original sources, it charts the fascinating and ultimately disastrous story of how successive waves of European seafarers arrived to take advantage of the fishing opportunities that had become distant memories in their own more circumscribed and heavily exploited home waters… Such is the complexity of marine ecosystems that the recovery of severely depleted cod populations is taking decades longer than simple theory would suggest. The Mortal Sea is a beautifully written chronicle of what lay before this latest catastrophe and much earlier dire outcomes of poorly regulated fishing. As an authoritatively written natural history of the developing fishing communities of the North West Atlantic, it makes an important contribution to fishery science as well as to social history.

    —Richard Shelton, Times Literary Supplement

Awards

  • 2013, Winner of the James A. Rawley Prize in Atlantic History
  • 2012, Winner of the John Lyman Book Award
  • 2013, Winner of the Bancroft Prize
  • 2013, Winner of the Albert J. Beveridge Award

Author

  • W. Jeffrey Bolster is Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire.

Book Details

  • 416 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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