The Great Gulf: Fishermen, Scientists, and the Struggle to Revive the World's Greatest Fishery / Edition 1

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For hundreds of years, the New England cod fishery was one of the most productive in the world, with higher average annual landings than any comparable ocean area. But in the late 1980s, fish catches dropped precipitously, as the cod, flounder, and other species that had long dominated the region seemed to lose their ability to recover from the massive annual harvests. Even today, with fishing sharply restricted, populations have not recovered.

Largely overlooked in this disaster is the intriguing human and scientific puzzle that lies at its heart: an anguished, seemingly inexplicable conflict between government scientists and fishermen over how fish populations are assessed, which has led to bitter disputes and has crippled efforts to agree on catch restrictions. In The Great Gulf, author David Dobbs offers a fascinating and compelling look at both sides of the conflict.

With great immediacy, he describes the history of the fisheries science in this most studied of oceans, and takes the reader on a series of forays over the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank on both fishing boats and research vessels. He introduces us to the challenges facing John Galbraith, Linda Despres, and Jay Burnett, passionate and dedicated scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service who spend countless hours working to determine how many fish there really are, and to the dilemma of Dave Goethel, a whipsmart, conscientious fisherman with 20 years's experience who struggles to understand the complex world he works in while maintaining his livelihood in an age of increasing regulation.

Dobbs paints the New England fishery problem in its full human and natural complexity, vividly portraying the vitality of an uncontrollable, ultimately unknowable sea and its strange, frightening, and beautiful creatures on the one hand, and on the other, the smart, irrepressible, unpredictable people who work there with great joy and humor, refusing to surrender to the many reasons for despair or cynicism. For anyone who read Cod or The Perfect Storm, this book offers the next chapter of the story — how today's fishers and fisheries scientists are grappling with the collapse of this fishery and trying to chart, amid uncertain waters, a course towards its restoration.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The once rich fishing grounds of the Gulf of Maine have been depleted through a combination of overfishing, disagreement between fishers and fisheries scientists on the extent of fish populations, and mismanagement. In 1998, nature writer Dobbs (coauthor of The Northern Forest) volunteered on National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) research vessels as well as privately owned fishing boats to get an understanding of both viewpoints. What he found was a "great gulf" between scientists trying to conserve dwindling fish populations and fishermen trying to make a living. A key point of disagreement concerned the methods and results of fish stock assessments. Dobbs explains that the NMFS warned of overfishing in the mid-1980s but that the New England Fishery Management Council did not impose the restraints recommended. As a result, fishermen benefiting from new high-tech navigational equipment increased their catches while endangering the future of the fishing industry. While sympathetic to the plight of the individual fisherman who finds his livelihood threatened, Dobbs also presents the NMFS's dedicated scientists and their methods of counting fish. Narrower in scope than Mark Kurlansky's Cod (LJ 7/97), Dobbs's book is one of the few nontechnical treatments available of this topic. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries, particularly in the New England region, and for specialized collections on fisheries.--Judith B. Barnett, Univ. of Rhode Island Lib., Kingston Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
New England's cod fishery ranked among the world's richest until the late 1980s, when catches plummeted because of overfishing. Dobbs, who spent two years volunteering on fishing boats and research vessels, examines the debate between scientists and fishermen over how many fish are left, how many can be caught, and how to protect this ecosystem. He personalizes the controversy with the stories of scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the experiences of a fisherman struggling to maintain his livelihood. Dobbs is a frequent contributor to . Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559636636
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

David Dobbs is a writer who lives in Montpelier, Vermont. A frequent contributor to Audubon, he is co-author of The Northern Forest (Chelsea Green, 1995), which won the Sigurd F. Olson Award for Excellence in Nature Writing and numerous other awards.

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Table of Contents


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  • Posted December 3, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    A Stormy Situation

    Dobbs documents the failing fisheries of the Gulf of Maine with a balanced approach to the fishermen, scientists, and the changes in fishing technology that have exacerbated the situation. Through his own participation in the assessments and interactions with fishermen, scientists, and governmental agents, he makes the story human and not just a bottom line. He adds to thisi the history of the governmental agencies and important figures in this history, highlighting changes in perspeceitve, policy, and technology related to fishing and the assessments of fish populations. His treatment highlights many important short comings including issues with funding long term projects. All interested in the interface of science, governmental agencies, and the livelihoods of people will gain from this book. This book is an important observation of changes needed in the public policy process.

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