Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 10: 243–244, 2000.
Just Fish: Ethics and Canadian Marine Fisheries.
Edited by Harold Coward, Rosemary Ommer, and
Tony Pitcher. ISER Books, St. John’s, Newfoundland.
ISBN: 0-919666-97-3. Soft cover, pp. 304 plus
In their introduction to Just Fish: Ethics and
Canadian Marine Fisheries, in a chapter entitled
“Ecosystem Justice in the Canadian Fisheries,”
Conrad Brunk and Scott Dunham (philosophers from
the University of Waterloo and McMaster University)
immediately address a key point: “Nothing raises
the issue of justice more acutely than conditions of
scarcity. When resources are abundant ... there is
little question of how they should be managed. ...
These issues are raised when demand begins to exceed
supply and some of the claimants to the resource ﬁnd
themselves having to settle for less than they want.
Garrett Hardin’s classic essay The Tragedy of the
Commons (1968) discusses in a clear and compelling
way the problem of exploitation of common property,
exacerbated by the expected and seemingly inevit-
able factor of human greed. This concept was further
developed by Ludwig et al. (1993), who observed that
“Large levels of natural variability mask the effects of
overexploitation. Initial overexploitation is not detect-
able until it is severe and often irreversible.” They
conclude with the following: “Scientists have been
active in pointing out environmental degradation and
consequent hazards to human life, and possibly to
life as we know it on Earth. But by and large the
scientiﬁc community has helped to perpetuate the
illusion of sustainable development through scientiﬁc
and technological progress. Resource problems are
not really environmental problems: They are human
problems that we have created at many times and in
many places, under a variety of political, social, and
economic systems” (emphasis added).
As one whose career has been largely concerned
with the preservation of ﬁshes in deserts of the south-
western U.S. and northern Mexico, it has long been
apparent that the answer to most of our environmental
problems lies far more in the realm of ethics and
human values rather than in technology (Pister, 1997).
Indiana University’s Lynton Caldwell put it this way:
“The environmental crisis is an outward manifestation
of a crisis of mind and spirit. There could be no greater
misconception of its meaning than to believe it to
be concerned only with endangered wildlife, human-
made ugliness, and pollution. These are part of it, but
more importantly, the crisis is concerned with the kind
of creatures we are and what we must become in order
to survive” [emphasis added] (in Miller, 1988).
It was therefore with great delight that I learned of
Just Fish: Ethics and Canadian Marine Fisheries.Ina
powerful assemblage of essays by an admirable group
of writers (primarily and appropriately Canadian), the
problem of depletion of Canadian marine ﬁsh stocks is
discussed in great depth by humanists, and natural and
Building around the tragic depletion of cod stocks
off Canada’s east coast and salmon stocks in the
Fraser River of British Columbia, the writers provide
their readers with a diverse menu including ecosystem
justice, spiritual and theoretical approaches (involving
the impact of world religions and native Haidu
ethics), and historical and empirical perspectives.
The diversity of subject material is both outstanding
and gratifying. How often, for instance, does one
ﬁnd Plato’s philosophies of social justice applied to
modern ecosystem thinking?
This book is far too complex and diverse to discuss
in detail in a brief journal review. However, it is indeed
refreshing to deviate for a moment from computer
models and statistics and consider such important and
profound matters as depleted ﬁsh stocks from a direc-
tion about 90 degrees from the norm. All too often
we tend to substitute technology for wisdom, and Just
Fish provides a unique opportunity to do otherwise. It
should be thoughtfully read by anyone with an interest
in such frightening matters as depletion of Canada’s
cod and salmon resources, a problem, unfortunately,
not unique to Canada.