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Clearing the Coastline [Kindle Edition]

Matthew McKenzie
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Hardcover $85.00  
Paperback $28.00  

Book Description

In just over a century Cape Cod was transformed from barren agricultural wasteland to bountiful fishery to pastoral postcard wilderness suitable for the tourist trade. This complex social, ecological, and scientific transformation fundamentally altered how Cape Codders used and managed their local marine resources, and determined how they eventually lost them. The Cape Cod story takes the usual land-use progression—from pristine wilderness to exploitation of resources to barren wasteland—and turns it on its head. Clearing the Coastline shows how fishermen abandoned colonial traditions of small-scale fisheries management, and how ecological, cultural, and scientific changes, as well as commercial pressures, eroded established, local conservation regimes. Without these protections, small fish and small fishermen alike were cleared from Cape Cod’s coastal margins to make room for new people, whose reinvention of the Cape as a pastoral “wilderness” allowed them to overlook the social and ecological dislocation that came before.

Editorial Reviews


“[W]ell-documented treatise . . . McKenzie convincingly argues that the inshore (alewife, herring, menhaden) bait fishery—evolving from small-scale regulation of fish runs (up rivers to spawning grounds) to commercial exploitation (using pound nets)—was the major force steering the region’s economy, culture, and ecology. The scope of scholarship is large, ranging from detailed catch data obtained from old town records to interpretations of nineteenth-century literature and pastoral art. . . . Recommended” —Choice

“McKenzie’s analysis shows in a systematic and engaging way how locals deployed their ecological knowledge to maintain a balance between conservation, subsistence, and development. At the same time, he takes care not to glorify them, explaining that small-scale inshore fishermen equipped with basic hand lines ‘’filled a local niche where immediate needs could be met with little cost, effort, or overhead’’—Journal of the History of Biology

“This is a finely crafted book. McKenzie moves deftly between anecdotal and quantitative evidence, historiographical and ecological contextual information, and cogent interpretation, driving his chronological narrative toward convincing ends. Above all, he is honest. In the few places where evidence is limited, McKenzie makes it transparent, which adds credibility to all his claims. One of the first books to focus specifically on bait and bait fishers, Clearing the Coastline merits a prominent place among histories of the sea.”—Environmental History

“McKenzie’s strength is in his discussion of the fisheries themselves. He does an excellent job of describing not only the relationship between the fisheries and those that depended upon them, but also the fish and the processes necessary to get their catch to their final consumer. These sections of his book are lively, well written and engaging, peopled by characters that give life to his story. His chapter on pound nets is not just good but excellent.” —International Journal of Maritime History


“An authoritative and compelling narrative that promises to be one of the best books on New England fishing in the last few decades.” (Richard Judd, Professor of Environmental History, University of Maine)

Product Details

  • File Size: 1355 KB
  • Print Length: 248 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of New England (December 28, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004EYSXJ8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,572,513 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On the ecology of maritime communities October 7, 2011
I teach world history and over Christmas break I found myself working on a lecture about history-what is history, how do we do it, and how has the writing of history changed over time. I found myself going back to a classic work, What is History, Edward Hallett Carr, published in 1961What Is History?. I found this wonderful quotation:
"History consists of a corpus of ascertained facts. The facts are documents, inscriptions, and so on, like fish on the fishmonger's slab. The historian collects them, takes them home, and cooks and serves them in whatever style appeals to him."
Among the new books where historians are serving fish is Clearing the Coastline: The Nineteenth-Century Ecological & Cultural Transformation of Cape Cod, by Matthew McKenzie of the University of Connecticut, Avery Point. Matt takes a look at complex ecological history of Cape Cod, and how it was transformed from a barren agricultural wasteland into a bountiful fishery, and then into a tourist destination. At the same time, he examines the tensions between fishing and other land uses, and the evolving understanding of the marine ecosystem.
"Cape Cod's nineteenth-century transformation reveals to us all that labor, environment, science, culture, and ecology are intimately intertwined. Fishermen were part of a larger ecological, social, and cultural context that also affected how and how intensely they took fish, (178)."
It's fashionable in fishery policy circles to talk about shifting baselines--the idea is attributed to fishery biologist Daniel Pauly, and what it means is that changes in nature tend to be slow and incremental. The frogs slowly disappear and we forget how many of them there used to be.
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