By Robert M. Sapolsky
Reader Review: Callum Roberts has crafted an excellent overview of the history of human exploitation of the sea. The title chosen for the book is excellent. If it were titled "The Natural History of the Sea" you could expect to read about marine bio-diversity, and how marine species interact with each other.
The title, "The Unnatural History of the Sea," however, is a good indicator of the content of the book. The book is divided into three main sections.
Section one introduces the reader to the history of human exploitation of the sea for food and profit. That overview includes references to historical documents that give insight into the diversity and densities of marine species. It includes chapters on what happened in European waters, the lure of largely unexploited fishing grounds in the new world, and the development of the global commercial fisheries for groups including cod, whales, and seals, as well as the advent of industrialized fishing.
Section two of the book is titled "The Modern Era of Fishing." In this section you are provided with example after example of the pattern of overharvesting, moving to new fishing grounds, and the subsequent development and application of new fishing technologies. This section details decimated fisheries, fish population crashes, the decline of coral reefs, and the ongoing rush to capture all we can while there is still something left to fish.
Finally, the third section of the book presents an overview of current fisheries policies, and a proposal for a new direction that could save global fisheries.
The book deserves and demands to be read by anyone interested in the sea, as well as by those involved in developing and implementing fisheries policies.
By the way, if you are like me, you will be hooked by the first story in the first chapter...it tells about of the discovery and subsequent demise of the Stellar Sea Cow, a large, docile marine mammal that once lived along the northern Pacific coast of North America. Sadly, that mammal didn't survive more than a few decades after its discovery. Get a copy of the book and find out why.