The Mortal Sea

The Mortal Sea: fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail

W. Jeffrey Bolster
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 366
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  • Book Info
    The Mortal Sea
    Book Description:

    Since the time of the Vikings, the Atlantic has shaped the lives of people who depend on it for survival, and people have shaped the Atlantic. In his account of this interdependency, 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06721-9
    Subjects: History, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. [Maps]
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. Prologue: The Historic Ocean
    (pp. 1-11)

    On clear, dry days in the age of sail, with fish coming over the rail, the coast of northern New England and Atlantic Canada could charm the most hardened fisherman. Green-capped islands and barren dark rocks, each girt round by waterline stripes of living white barnacles and fringed with mustard-hued bladder wrack, protruded from waters teeming with life. Off shore, dainty petrels skimmed the surface plucking tiny invertebrates from the sea, while white gannets with six-foot wingspans plunged into the schools of baitfish on which cod thrived. Vast armies of porpoises, the horse men of the sea, arced across the...

  6. One Depleted European Seas and the Discovery of America
    (pp. 12-48)

    Renaissance seafarers and cartographers confronted the “great and marvelous things of the Ocean Sea” in astonishing ways after 1522, when the remnant of Ferdinand Magellan’s tattered fleet arrived in Seville following their unprecedented circumnavigation. Within a few years Antonio Pigafetta, the most literary of the survivors, produced a memorable account of that Ocean Sea’s immensity and exotic variety, a tantalizing tale of “contrary winds, calms, and rains” in the equatorial doldrums, “large fish with fearsome teeth called tiburoni” in the South Atlantic, and incomprehensibly gigantic shellfish near Borneo—“the flesh of one which weighed twenty-six pounds and the other forty-four.”...

  7. Two Plucking the Low-Hanging Fruit
    (pp. 49-87)

    No sixteenth- or seventeenth-century European community relied on the sea as much as the Mi’kmaq and Malecite hunter-gatherers of what are now eastern Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The sea nourished their bodies and souls. Seal hunters, seabird egg collectors, scavengers of drift whales, weir builders, hook fishers, and harpooners, Mi’kmaqs and Malecites studied the tides and remained alert for ecological signals from the neighboring sea. As much as 90 percent of their annual caloric intake came from marine resources. Not only did they know the sea; they felt it. Imagining themselves as descended from animal ancestors, including marine...

  8. Three The Sea Serpent and the Mackerel Jig
    (pp. 88-120)

    Sometime around 1815 in a Cape Ann fishing station called Pigeon Cove—named for the abundant passenger pigeons that once roosted on nearby Pigeon Hill—Abraham Lurvey experimented casting molten lead and pewter around the shank of a mackerel hook. Decades later a few old-timers gave credit for the jig to others, but the actual inventor had considerably less significance than the invention itself. Mackerel hooks were relatively small. Being iron, they rusted. Lurvey sensed that a bit of dried sharkskin or other sandpaper could shine the pewter sleeve, attracting mackerel in lieu of bait. As far back as anyone...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. Four Making the Case for Caution
    (pp. 121-168)

    Late in 1864, as General William T. Sherman cut a swath of devastation across Georgia on his notorious march to the sea, Jotham Johnson of Freeport, a village in the northwest corner of Casco Bay, Maine, lamented devastation in the sea closer to home. Johnson was frightened. Ruing the day that menhaden oil factories (“the greates Destruction to the fisheries of any invention Ever got up”) had come to the Maine coast, and complaining that mackerel seiners would soon “inclose all the shoal ground,” he asked the legislature to intervene. “If their is not sumthing don to put a stopt...

  11. Five Waves in a Troubled Sea
    (pp. 169-222)

    For Maine’s Commissioner of Sea and Shore Fisheries, B. W. Counce, the world seemed upside down in 1888. It wasn’t just that “the present catch” of mackerel was “the smallest known for fifty years” or that “many vessels” would suffer “great loss” or that, as usual, “the cause of this falling off no one seems to know.” The situation had deteriorated beyond that. “To supply the demand,” he lamented, “many mackerel have been shipped to the States from England, a thing never known before.”¹ As every schoolboy of Counce’s generation knew, the coastal dreamscape from Labrador to Cape Cod had...

  12. Six An Avalanche of Cheap Fish
    (pp. 223-264)

    How could Marshall McDonald, the U.S. fish commissioner in 1895, not feel appreciated? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and distinguished Europeans then sought to emulate the successes of American scientists. “Knowing the good results which have been obtained in your country with the artificial propagation of cod,” wrote Msr. Principe DiGangi from Palermo, “I beg that you will give me a detailed description of the methods and apparatus employed, as it is desired to try the experiment in the Mediterranean with the tunny and other marine fishes, which have for some years been very rare . . ....

  13. Epilogue: Changes in the Sea
    (pp. 265-282)

    In its immensity and fragility the sea has never been equaled. Well before industrialized and mechanized fisheries took their toll, harvesters working from simple wooden boats affected the mighty North Atlantic, leaving biological marine communities and the human maritime communities that depended upon them in deep disarray. The contemporary plight of the world’s living ocean is comprehensible only in light of that long history. Nothing conveys the sea’s vulnerability as effectively as the realization that men first vexed it using gear that in hindsight looks extraordinarily primitive. Put another way, future technological marvels will strip all defenses from creatures of...

  14. APPENDIX: Figures
    (pp. 285-290)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 291-334)
    (pp. 335-356)
    (pp. 357-360)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 361-378)