“But Americans don’t own the fish in their oceans anymore, not really.”


Every now and then (not nearly often enough) I read a book and just think: “Yes. This.” It just speaks to you. “The Fish Market: Inside the Big-Money Battle for the Ocean and Your Dinner Plate” blew me away.


I get this book may not be for everyone, but for anyone involved in the fishery or fisheries management, I think it should be a must read. The book looks at the move to catch shares in the United States and the resulting privatization of most (if not all) of those fisheries. The fallout from that policy, both good and bad is examined.


My book is covered with hi-lighted passages; many that so closely mirrored the reasons the inshore fishery in Canada has been fighting to maintain the owner operator; things like family, and community, and sustainability, and fishing careers. It’s a topic that could easily have fallen into “dry and crunchy” but didn’t.  Maybe (probably) it’s my passion on the issue, but the stories of coastal communities built by generations of families making their living on the water being destroyed by policy decisions resonated. There was also a look at the people who benefitted from from the change and how they maximized the changes to their advantage, because there are always winners and losers no matter what the decision.


It was hard not to read parts of the book and think this could be us. This is where we could be headed.  The benefit of the resource no longer supporting coastal communities but those who live in places far from the water, collecting rent on access they were granted on history or inherited from family. In some fisheries, the control has passed from local families and businesses to foreign entities. (I did smile at the anecdote about the attempted purchase of the American company Bumble Bee by Thailand investors. The “Canadian” version of ownership would have you believe that Bumble Bee is owned by Connors Bros. in Canada. Apparently ownership and nationality is a bit of nebulous concept)


It was particularly interesting to me that some of culture and discussion is shifting from support of catch shares to ensuring that there is not consolidation in the industry and that eventually there can again be access for the people who actually go out on the water. Policy decisions about who controls access to the fish change the culture and the social fabric of communities.


“It’s a future in which Port Orford would be just a town on the coast, and not a coastal town.”


It’s a fine distinction with a word of caution worth heading.


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