Monday, August 15, 2011

The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky

Why I read it: My third Kurlansky read, and, living so close to Gloucester, the book was a bit of local history for me.

Summary: Kurlansky, author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, focuses his talented eye on the Massachusetts seaport town of Gloucester, subtitling his book "The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America's Oldest Fishing Port and Most Original Town." He details how both fish and fishermen are endangered, and ponders how to bring them both back from the edge of extinction.

My Thoughts: Well, this is my third Kurlansky book. Does that make me a fan? I guess it does.

Kurlansky has an interesting way of writing deep, interesting history and then surprising the reader with a recipe. Along you go, thinking you're in for a straight history lesson on the Portuguese and their role in the life of Gloucester, when suddenly you're hit with a recipe for linguica. Not being the cook I would love to be, I tend to skim the recipes over, as they're just lists to me; I wish I had the ability to consider how all the elements work together. Not even the Food Network has drilled that into my head yet.

Being a Massachusetts resident and having visited Gloucester on numerous occasions, especially these last few years, the scenery was all familiar to me: the wharves, the statue (and I do mean the statue), the exclusivity of Eastern Point, everything. Kurlansky's picture is as accurate and beautiful as the works of the many artists who discovered the beauty of the community decades ago and made it a painter's destination.

Concomitantly, being the great-grandson of Italian immigrants, I found the stories of first and second generation Italian Gloucester fishermen engrossing.

All this said, the book holds a truly larger scope, expanding one's thoughts to the entire Atlantic Ocean, and ostensibly the world's fish stocks. We've destroyed them through overfishing and bad regulatory practices. Yesterday's by-catch has become today's main haul, and today's by-catch, being discarded entirely, will someday become critically important if we want to keep fishermen at work. That is, unless we can figure out how to rebuild and manage the world's fish populations in a way that balances out for all involved.

No community can expect to remain exactly the same through time, especially with the way we've overdeveloped the planet and shoved nature to the side. Things are bound to change. Still, I love Gloucester for all it was and is, and am hopeful it can survive with fishing always a part of its life.

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