All the Boats in the Ocean is Carmel Finley’s companion to her provocative 2011 All the Fish in the Sea, which argued that Maximum Sustainable Yield theory was more politics than science. In this book, driven by the idea that too many boats are chasing too few fish, Finley asks, “who built all the boats in the first place?” (p. 2). Her conclusion is that governments around the world, motivated largely by Cold War concerns, did so by subsidizing their fishing industries. Finley focuses on tuna, cod, and rosefish to show how US relations with Iceland, Japan, and the USSR, and particularly tariff policies toward the first two, fit into a larger policy of promotion of freer trade that ended up promoting subsidized fishing. As she notes on more than one occasion, “Fishing was never just about fish” (p. 143). For a short book, All the Boats in the Ocean tries to address some big topics, with chapter titles like “Manifest Destiny and Fishing,” “Imperialism,” and “Enclosure.” The chapter titles reflect key themes in the book, although the titles and content do not always seem to match. The chapter with “Manifest Destiny” in the title never defines or uses the controversial term and opens with a lengthy section on Iceland. In general, Finley sees Cold War imperialism, in the form of US policy, as the motivator for some nations to take the policy steps to send more boats to sea and others to try to enclose their fisheries against pelagic fishing nations. The upshot of each was that more fish populations than ever before faced overwhelming pressure and hence ended up collapsing. Finley cites historian Melvyn Leffler to demonstrate that the “expansion of fishing has to be understood in terms of the breadth of the American conception of national security” (p. 3). She boldly finds relevance even in Leffler’s point about the American desire for superiority in nuclear weapons, highlighting links between nuclear testing and the struggle for the tuna fishery in Micronesia. Fish would be the means to strengthen the US position in the central Pacific, cement alliances with Norway and Iceland, rebuild Germany and Japan, and combat world hunger. “The race for the oceans,” Finley writes, “was a primary battlefield during the Cold War” (p. 2). These are big claims, and sometimes Finley’s evidence seems contradictory. She asserts that the US government was building “fishing boats for Cold War allies—specifically the Soviet Union,” (p. 5) and then frames Japanese marine expansion in the North Pacific “as a challenge to American naval superiority” (p. 7). The United States did not actually subsidize the building of fishing boats until 1970, long after overfishing had started, and the United States took many years to change its laws to keep Soviet trawlers out of waters that the United States could easily have claimed. In any case, the connection between Cold War imperatives and subsidizing fishing is fuzzy. Iceland, the Soviet Union, and Japan might well have subsidized the expansion of their fishing fleets just as a matter of industrial policy even if the USSR and United States had somehow stuck to the spirit of the Yalta Agreement of 1945. As she notes near the end of the book, after the war, the oceans were open to all, and governments used grand pronouncements about fighting hunger with cheap protein to justify expanding their fisheries. For all of its merits in raising an original and challenging argument, the book would have been improved with closer editorial oversight. A number of small factual errors and repeated ideas could have been caught. On page 110, for instance, there is a discussion of the waters off the Brazil-Venezuela boundary, presumably meaning the Brazil-Argentina boundary. The page also has an examination of the tariff rules for foreign vessels delivering tuna to a cannery in Pago Pago, which closely mirrors a paragraph on page 86, only this time one of the delivering countries has changed from the Republic of China to Communist China. Overfishing is one of the most critical problems facing the world. Subsidizing more fishing only exacerbates the crisis on the oceans, and Finley makes a compelling case that fisheries science was no match for the political demands behind those subsidies. But she concludes with a glimmer of hope that the creation of marine reserves and new thinking about government support for sustainable fishing might leave fewer boats on the ocean and more fish in the sea. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: May 8, 2018
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