Posts Tagged ‘Mark Kurlansky’

“Salmon” by Mark Kurlansky

Saturday, May 15th, 2021

Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:28

Published by Oneworld Publications in 2020, “Salmon”, by Mark Kurlansky follows in the tradition of his previous title, “Cod”, outlining human kinds historic interaction with the iconic fish species that is salmon, a species which could in time be viewed as a litmus test to indicate the survival or not of the human race. For there is a perception in certain circles that if salmon cease to exist humans will not be far behind.

Salmon’s narrative pulls no punches, it outlines very clearly how European culture has viewed the earth and its resources as there to be tamed and exploited for profit, whereas indigenous native cultures, in particular the American Indians, worked and lived in harmony with the land.

Kurlansky dedicates the book to the late Orri Vigfusson an Icelandic environmentalist who succeeded more or less before his passing in curtailing the commercial fishing for North Atlantic Salmon. That said, if as the book states there are only 1.5 million salmon left in the north Atlantic when on an average year the sockeye salmon run into Bristol Bay, Alaska alone numbers 50 plus million, then we have a lot not to be proud of as humans.

The above grainy image taken sometime in the 1960′s shows my Grandfather Redmond, Mum and Dad holding up four salmon caught in trammel nets which would have been set along the south beach in Greystones, Co. Wicklow. My memories of going out fishing post 1970 when we returned from England to live was that salmon were common then. In fact lobster and salmon were regularly served up in Granny Redmond’s house back then.

The above is backed up by Kurlansky, historically North Atlantic salmon runs in Europe and the eastern states of America were as prolific as Pacific salmon runs to Alaskan rivers are today. Riverine obstructions such as dams, various forms of pollution and over fishing primarily but not totally at sea having over centuries reduced the vast North Atlantic salmon stocks to what they are today. In the past, salmon was a staple of the European diet only becoming a luxury the more scarce it got.

The key facts that emerged for me from the whole book were that the native Americans had no word for famine because they never went hungry, that there were salmon fishing cultures within all the coastal states east and west and that there were anything from 150,000 to 300,000 inhabitants per coastal state all fishing for and reliant on salmon. That they smoked it, salted it, dried it and traded the fish commercially for thousands of years while never reducing the runs, yet within 400 years “sophisticated” Europeans by their actions succeeded in bringing the North Atlantic salmon to its knees on both sides of the pond and making a good fist of ruining Pacific salmon runs on many a western American river.

The only reason today that salmon run so prolifically in Alaska is the lack of human settlement, however even these runs are under threat due to a proposed open cast gold mine which if it goes ahead will be one mile wide and a quarter mile deep and in the process will destroy 3000 acres of wetlands and 21 miles of salmon spawning streams. Have we learned nothing? Reading Kurlansky’s “Salmon” would be a good start……….


The Humble Cod has a Colourful History

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

To most people the humble cod is the primary ingredient of Birds Eye Fish Fingers, or comes battered as a constituent of the “one and one” that they have just purchased from the local chipper on the way home from the pub. Little do they know that this big headed, barbuled chinned, coloured a mottled olive green/brown/red, white bellied, much loved fish has most definitely played a major role in the historical development of western society both in Europe and America.

COD, by Mark Kurlansky, a must read for all those who are interested in the marine environment.

Cod was one of, if not the main source of protein for most western and central European nations from the middle ages right into the 19th century. In the Middle Ages dried cod or stock fish as it was known underwrote economies, it predated the gold standard. Basque fishermen from northern Spain crossed the Atlantic to their “secret fishing grounds” off Newfoundland long before Christopher Columbus claimed he had found the New World, and returned with their holds filled with dried and salt cod.

Cod enriched the Pilgrim Fathers who settled on the eastern shores of that mighty continent we now call the USA, to the point where they no longer needed support from their mother nation England. Cod enabled them to become financially independent with the potential to outstrip the burgeoning economy of their home country. Tied to a set of ground rules, one of which was that they could only trade with England, the first settlers sought independence which was refused so kick starting the American Revolution.

All these little gems and more are expanded upon in a wonderful book simply titled “COD” by Mark Kurlansky, first published in 1997 the author charts in vivid style how prolific the species was and sadly after 600 plus years of human exploitation how humanity has mined the North Atlantic cod to economic extinction. No longer do they swim in vast shoals across the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and closer to home reside, coloured red due to the kelp and diet of crab, on the Moulditch bank off Greystones, Co. Wicklow, mans ignorance and greed has seen to that.

Today however, due to some minor miracle or quirk of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, certainly in my opinion not a result of  good fisheries management, cod are swimming again in reasonable numbers off Ireland’s south coast. Averaging 2/3 lbs in weight, on certain tides they are coming within casting range of shore anglers fishing beaches, piers, estuaries, and headlands from Wexford to Cork. Fishing into the dark using lugworm or peeler crab for bait, rod tops have been nodding and for the lucky few who are putting the time in some fine catches have been made. Yours truly has made a number of trips to various locations since early November, enjoying some excellent results in the process, culminating in the freshest battered cod and chips that I have had in years. On form the cod will stay around until January, get out and cast a line while the going is good….