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Fishing Lessons

Artisanal Fisheries and the Future of Our Oceans

Fish bones in the caves of East Timor reveal that humans have systematically fished the seas for at least 42,000 years. But in recent centuries, our ancient, vital relationship with the oceans has changed faster than the tides. As boats and fishing technology have evolved, traditional fishermen have been challenged both at sea and in the marketplace by large-scale fishing companies whose lower overhead and greater efficiency guarantee lower prices. In Fishing Lessons, Kevin M. Bailey captains a voyage through the deep history and present course of this sea change—a change that has seen species depleted, ecosystems devastated, and artisanal fisheries transformed into a global industry afloat with hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

Bailey knows these waters, the artisanal fisheries, and their relationship with larger ocean ecology intimately. In a series of place-based portraits, he shares stories of decline and success as told by those at the ends of the long lines and hand lines, channeling us through the changing dynamics of small-scale fisheries and the sustainability issues they face—both fiscal and ecological. We encounter Paolo Vespoli and his tiny boat, the Giovanni Padre,in the Gulf of Naples; Wenche, a sea Sámi, one of the indigenous fisherwomen of Norway; and many more. From salmon to abalone, the Bay of Fundy to Monterey and the Amazon, Bailey’s catch is no fish tale. It is a global story, casting a net across waters as vast and distinct as Puget Sound and the Chilean coast. Sailing across the world, Bailey explores the fast-shifting current of how we gather food from the sea, what we gain and what we lose with these shifts, and potential solutions for the murky passage ahead.

224 pages | 26 halftones, 9 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Biological Sciences: Conservation, Natural History

Earth Sciences: Oceanography and Hydrology

Economics and Business: Economics--Agriculture and Natural Resources


“Bailey’s book is a direction signal to the less-traveled road. . . . [The] process of privatization and consolidation not only entails a wholesale loss of jobs and infrastructure along the waterfronts of coastal communities, it invests power in entities that have the political muscle to evade or shape regulations to their convenience. . . . If we expect the sea still to feed us, our fisheries must once again become public resources not private bailiwicks, their management governed more by the spirit of stewardship than by big business.”

Richard Adams Carey | Wall Street Journal

"A small book with an urgent plea for readers, seafood consumers, and society in general to pay more attention to the challenges faced by artisanal fisheries, where much of the fish used for human consumption is caught. . . . Fishing Lessons makes a good case for abandoning current practices and policies that marginalize artisanal fisheries and disrupt fishing jobs and communities all over the world."

Daniel Pauly, University of British Columbia | Science

“This book is less a lesson in fishing than a portrait of man at his most harmonious with the sea, when the ocean is his backyard rather than his dominion. Bailey draws on rich cultural history—from indigenous salmon fishers to the lore of Maine’s Bay of Fundy—to etch the line between sharing an ecosystem and exploiting it. His work reminds us that there are costs when that delicate boundary can’t be minded. And that the costs to humanity can run high as the costs to the fish.”

Lee van der Voo, author of "The Fish Market: Inside the Big Money Battle for the Ocean and Your Dinner Plate"

Fishing Lessons uses diverse, unique examples of small fisheries from all over the world to illustrate the challenges artisanal fishermen face in the current fishery management regime and global seafood market. Bailey’s well-told, relatable stories of visits and dialogues with individual fishermen, of cooking and eating seafood, as well as his thorough descriptions of historical context really help readers to place a social value on the profession itself. Filled with lots of new information about seafood and how it is produced, Fishing Lessons will appeal to foodies and fans of Deadliest Catch as well as to folks interested in the sustainability of food, food security, locally sourced foods, the traceability of food, and organic foods—and in the natural history of the oceans.”

Jon Warrenchuk, senior scientist and campaign manager, Oceana

“This book is the cri de coeur of a well-respected fishery scientist, a biologist and ecologist, who has stepped outside his professional niche to examine the social issues confronting small-scale fisheries today. However, his depth of understanding of the issues from a lifetime of involvement with fisheries is masterful. Skillfully blending personal experience with descriptions of highly colorful characters, Bailey tells the global tale of the passing of small-scale (or artisanal) fisherfolk, why it is happening, and what may perhaps be done about it. Insightful, compelling, Fishing Lessons is an excellent and important book.”

Tony Koslow, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, and author of "The Silent Deep: The Discovery, Ecology, and Conservation of the Deep Sea"

Table of Contents


Fouled Fish

1. The Giovanni Padre: The Sun Sets on Small-Scale Fisheries in the Gulf of Naples
2. The King Is Dead: The Collapse and Resurrection of Vosso Salmon
3. Ode to the Sea: Chile’s Troubled Fisheries

Loss and Recovery of Indigenous Fisheries

4. The First Fish: The Coast Salish Salmon Fishery
5. Northern Lights: The Sea Sámi Fishery in Norway

Return to Artisanal

6. A Clean and Green Fishery: Legoe Bay Reefnets
7. Crimson Tide: The Bay of Fundy Weir Fishery and a Conflict with Green Power
8. A Dying Fishery? Puget Sound Keta Salmon

Striking a Balance in Aqua Farming

9. Mother of Pearl: Ocean Farming Red Abalone in Monterey Bay
10. King of the Amazon: Culture and Harvest of Arapaima
11. Evolving Solutions


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