Skip to content


Breaching the blue can be a daunting task.  The ocean covers 71% of our planet and our interactions with it are myriad.  Shipping, fishing, recreation, culture, waste disposal, respiration, and on and on.  In spite of this complexity, the ocean’s social aspects can be quite understandable with the right educational resources.  I’ll try to put down here the best of the best, though with a distinct slant towards fisheries.  This is a work in progress, so recommendations are welcome.


  • The Unnatural History of the Sea by Callum Roberts. If you read only one book, it should be this.  A lot of ocean policy gets done on the basis of quantitative data, yet we’ve largely only collected catch and species abundance information since the 1950s.  Historical research shows that the oceans were in decline long before this. Roberts’ book tells the real story, and it does so beautifully.
  • 5 Easy Pieces: The Impact of Fisheries on Marine Ecosystems by Daniel Pauly.  Pauly is perhaps the most famous living marine biologist, and this book will tell you why.  It’s a collection of his five most famous scientific articles and – even more valuable – his reflections on why he conducted each line of research, how he disseminated the results, and how the sometimes conflictual findings were received.  Here’s my review for more.
  • Crimes Against Nature: Environmental Criminology and Ecological Justice by R.D. White.  This book deftly and systematically lays out the core concepts in environmental criminology, including how we determine what is wrong-doing, what is criminal, and how we as a society take corrective action.  There is also a gem of a chapter on NGOs’ role in identifying wrong-doing and the possible biases in their identification processes.
  • The End of the Wild by Stephen Meyer.  It’s the perfect 90pp primer on the “anthropocene”, this new era where humans, not nature, control the planet’s fate.  This is an important concept for any environmentalist to digest.  Here’s a review post.
  • Handbook of Marine Fisheries Conservation and Management by Grafton, Hilborn, Squires, Tate, and Williams (eds.).  This is the ‘big daddy’ of fisheries social science texts.  The author’s hold that most of the failures in fisheries management owe more to our failure to properly align the interests of the private sector with the interests of broader society than to our failure to scientifically manage stocks.  I can’t speak to our scientific failures, but the social aspects of ocean management have long been under-appreciated.  Some of my favorite chapters cover systems theory, estimates of unreported fish catches, fisheries buybacks, and the allocation of catch shares.
  • Hooked: Pirates, Poaching, and the Perfect Fish by G. Bruce Knecht.  As I’ve put in my review: “It’s the tale of the Viarsa, an illegal fishing vessel that was caught in the act and ran for it.  This led to the longest maritime pursuit in history and a very high profile court case in Australia.  It makes for a good read for just about anyone, and a truly great read for those interested in marine policy.”  The book effectively shows that traditional enforcement on the high seas is too costly and ineffective to use.  By implication, new enforcement techniques are needed.
  • Mismanagement of Marine Fisheries by Alan Longhurst.  While it doesn’t quite have the social scope the title suggests, this book solidly reviews the weaknesses in fisheries science, including the central idea that fisheries produce ‘surplus’ population numbers.
  • The Closing of the Frontier: A History of the Marine Fisheries of Southeast Asia by John G. Butcher.  This book compares positively with Callum Roberts’ The Unnatural History of the Sea (see above).  Butcher does for Southeast Asia what Roberts did for the North Atlantic. The main theme of the book, as indicated by the title, is how fishing operations expanded from small, coastal fisheries to a mix of small- and industrial-scale fisheries that operate in the entirety of Southeast Asian waters.  In effect, the book is an excellent regional case study to complement more abstract analyses of the geographic expansion of global fisheries (for example: Swartz et al).  My full review is here.
  • Catch Share Design Manual.  This EDF manual reviews the key attributed of catch shares, which goes to show the diverse design options available.  Also, the case studies offer a nice primer on catch shares on the ground.
  • The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA).  This report is published every two years to provide policy-makers, civil society, and the fishing sector a comprehensive view of capture fisheries and aquaculture.
  • The Sunken Billions.  An excellent report on the economic health of global fisheries from the World Bank.
  • Looting the Seas.  A reporting series by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism on the phenomenon of illegal fishing.  Very powerful stuff.
  • Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.  The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) was called for by the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2000. Initiated in 2001, the objective of the MA was to assess the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and the scientific basis for action needed to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of those systems and their contribution to human well-being. The MA, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), assessed current knowledge, scientific literature, and data.  I highly recommend Chapter 18 on “Marine Systems” the Current State & Trends Assessment for a solid overview of ocean issues, still relevant since publication in 2005.
  • Status of European Marine Fish Stocks.  An assessment report is released periodically with detailed information on source documents and fairly decent online data presentation.
  • Fisheries of the United States.  The U.S. annually publishes a report on commercial and recreational fisheries.  It’s a really good document to learn about the relative importance of different ports, species, seafood products, and trade partners.
  • Status of U.S. Fisheries Report. An annual and quarterly report on the status of U.S. fish stocks.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: