Social and Cultural Aspects of Commercial Fishing

Acheson, James M. 1988. The Lobster Gangs of Maine. Hanover: University Press of New England. Acheson’s detailed account of lobstering in Maine quickly dispels notions that the lobsterman is the eastern version of the cowboy, struggling alone for survival against the elements. In reality, he writes, “the lobster fisherman is caught up in a thick and complex web of social relationships. Survival in the industry depends as much on the ability to manipulate social relationships as on technical skills.” Acheson replaces our romantic image of the lobsterman with descriptions of the highly territorial and hierarchical “harbor gangs,” daily and annual cycles of lobstering, intricacies of marketing the catch, and the challenge of managing a communal resource.

Carey, Richard Adams. 1999. Against the Tide: The Fate of the New England Fisherman. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company. This book was reviewed in the NY Times Book Review with the comment that it is "deep ecological journalism at its best, an effective and compassionate chronicle of a threatened way of life." Carey follows the lives of four fishermen and reflects on their changed fortunes. He weaves the details of the fishermen’s lives with passages on local and global fishing history, the minutiae of national and regional legislation severely regulating the fishing industry, the vicissitudes of the weather, and a multitude of stories and anecdotes.

Greenlaw, Linda. 1999. The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain's Journey. New York: Hyperion. Greenlaw, a successful female swordfish captain, provides the reader with an inside look at the operations and challenges of a deep sea fishing trip. The book is written in diary-like entries that cover the span of a 30-day fishing trip. Greenlaw begins by describing the preparation of the boat and continues through the entire course of the adventure. She talks about dealing with the weather, the crew, and other vessels that all present challenges along the way.

Johannes, R.E. 1981. Words of the Lagoon: Fishing and Marine Lore in the Palau District of Micronesia. Johannes was a marine biologist that spent over a year in Palau learning about the marine environment and cultural traditions associated with fishing and the marine environment from local fishermen. Words of the Lagoon was a seminal work that brought fishermen’s knowledge to the attention of marine scientists and managers. For those with interests in marine biology, anthropology, coral reef ecology, and/or fishing techniques.

McCloskey, William. 2000. Their Fathers' Work: Casting Nets with the World's Fishermen. International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press. Fishing is a hard and fiercely independent life, one of the world’s last hunting occupations, and one of the most hazardous. Although traditional fisheries are become more modernized, overfishing and pollution are threatening stocks, and political pressures are increasing; at the heart fishing still remains the same. Sons, and now sometimes daughters, still follow their fathers to sea.

Peffer, Randall S. 1979. Watermen. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. For three hundred years, generations of Tilghman Islanders have lived by harvesting the waters of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. They are watermen, an old English term for commercial fishermen, and their lives today retain much of the spirit and practice that characterized their land’s first Anglo-Saxon settlers. Watermen is the story of their lives told by Randy Peffer, a young writer who came to Tilghman Island in search of his ancestral roots and left a year later with the makings of a book.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. 2000. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. New York: Viking. In 1819, the 238-ton Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage to hunt whales. Fifteen months later the unthinkable happened: in the farthest reaches of the South Pacific, the Essex was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale. Fearing cannibals on the islands to the west, the 20-man crew set out in three small boats for South America, almost 3,000 miles away. Three months later, only eight were left alive, the survivors having been forced to eat the bodies of their dead shipmates. The Heart of the Sea shares a saga of survival and adventure steeped in the lore of the whaling tradition, with deep resonance in literature and American history, and in the life of the Nantucket community.

Upton, Joe. 2003. Alaska Blues: A Season of Fishing the Inside Passage. Sasquatch Books. For seven months, Joe Upton steered his 32-foot boat through the open channels and narrow, twisting passageways of Southeast Alaska, trolling for salmon. In Alaska Blues, Upton presents his account of that fishing season-the lonely hours at sea as well as the close community of small-boat fishers, the sudden, violent storms and the glorious days of sun, the difficult, frenzied work and quiet moments of contemplation. Most of all, Alaska Blues describes to the reader the people and their way of life, and the haunting, beautiful shores that draw them back, season after season.

Warner, William W. 1976. Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay. Boston: Little, Brown. William Warner won the Pulitzer Prize for this book, and it has been labeled as a modern American classic. Beautiful Swimmers combines a natural history of the Atlantic blue crab with a historical and ecological study of the Chesapeake Bay and a chronicle of the commercial crabber's year. The book immerses the reader not only in the world of the Chesapeake’s most famous crustaceans (the blue crab), but in the winds and tides of the Bay itself and the struggles of the watermen who make their living in pursuit of the blue crab.

Warner, William W. 1983. Distant Water: The Fate of the North Atlantic Fisherman. Boston: Little, Brown. Distant Water chronicles the history of a North Atlantic Fishing Fleet since World War II. Warner narrates the day-to-day occupations of shipboard life, and examines the fleet’s current operations and future prospects.

Whitehead, John Hurt. 1987. The Watermen of the Chesapeake Bay. Tidewater Pub. This book depicts the lives and work of the Chesapeake Bay watermen through the use of pictures and stories.

**Special thanks to Marc Hershman, Professor at the University of Washington’s School of Marine Affairs ( ), for sharing a reading list from the SMA 500 course, from which many of these books and summaries were drawn.

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