A Billion Dollar Fish by Kevin Bailey – Review

How was the largest fishery in the United States born and how did it overcome the many ecological and socio-economic challenges facing modern fisheries management?

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What do McDonald’s fish sticks, imitation crabmeat and Filet-O-Fish sandwiches have in common? They are all made from the snow-white flesh of Alaska Pollock, Gadus chalcogram. This species of silver-spotted cod lives fast and, thanks to a sea teeming with fishing fleets, dies young. Nevertheless, this desirable fish is the dominant species found in all subarctic coastal systems of the North Pacific Ocean, with particularly large concentrations in the stormy eastern Bering Sea. Alaska pollock, sometimes called “white gold” by anglers, is the favorite prey of a large host of hungry marine animals, such as halibut, cod, sea lions and seals, a variety of fish. seabird species – and even for millions of human beings. schoolchildren across the US and UK.

Alaska pollock is so popular that it accounts for 45% of all marine fish caught in US waters. This species is also very vulnerable to overfishing, raising the question of whether it is even possible to maintain a sustainable and profitable fishery when a single vessel can catch nearly half a million dollars worth of fish in just 30 minutes ?

This is the main question posed by Kevin Bailey, a retired NOAA fisheries biologist, in his book, Billion Dollar Fish: The Untold Story of Alaska Pollock (University of Chicago Press; 2013: United States / United Kingdom). In his insightful book, Dr. Bailey dives deep into the amazing complexities involved in commercial fishing and how they have been managed in the United States since the Industrial Revolution, and how that management converges with international politics, socio-economics and business, and affects the ecology of these fish and other animals that depend on them.

Dr. Bailey details the drama and history of the Alaska pollock fishery from the perspective of its many different participants: fishermen, conservationists, scientists and politicians. Dr. Bailey, an accomplished storyteller, also shares often humorous personal accounts of his life at sea and interweaves compelling tales of adventure, heroism and controversy with the biology and ecology of pollock.

Although much of the pollock fishery remains viable today, Dr. Bailey is quick to detail its failures, such as the disaster that occurred in the “Donut Hole”, a spawning area of the once-rich pollock in the central Bering Sea that was overfished until it collapsed in the mid-1980s. We also learn about other fisheries that have collapsed, including California sardine, anchovy from Peru and cod from the North Atlantic – and these comparisons send shivers down our spines: could the Alaskan pollock fishery also collapse? Can are we recognizing and avoiding an impending collapse?

This educational story is an important and well-researched case study that will be enjoyed by students of fisheries and scientists and others who work in the Bering Sea, as well as those who want to learn more about the uncertain future of our environment. and its living resources. .


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