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The Green Life: Book Roundup Wednesday: Fisheries in Peril

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March 02, 2011

Book Roundup Wednesday: Fisheries in Peril

Books about environmentalism

Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending books about the ecological crisis that fisheries face, and what we can do about it.

Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food (by Paul Greenberg, $14, Penguin Press, 2010). Cod, salmon, bass, and tuna: the book takes its title from these four fish, which constitute the bulk of today’s seafood market. Greenberg argues that a dangerous combination of high consumption and low diversification has led to the near demise of wild fisheries, a situation which could wreak havoc on the fishing industry and leave future generations without wild-caught fish. The author, a science journalist, takes the reader all over the world, weaving in moving personal anecdotes from his lifelong experience as an angler. If you eat fish, you must read this book.

World Without Fish (by Mark Kurlansky, $12, Workman, 2011). If you think "the birds and the bees" is a tough conversation to have with your kid, try explaining that in less than a century, overfishing might wipe out most of the oceanic species we eat, which could cause ecosystems worldwide to collapse. Fortunately, this book takes on that task for you. It's richly illustrated (by Frank Stockton) and packed with hard fact, but without a single whole page of block text. It walks the line between being patronizing and overly complex to make this dire environmental situation accessible to those who'll be most affected by it: tomorrow’s adults.

Atlas of Oceans: An Ecological Survey of Underwater Life (by John Farndon, $31, Yale University Press, 2011). An in-depth exposition of everything under, around, and on the sea, this atlas uses photos, maps, charts, and text to create a very user-friendly primer about the oceans. The large amount of space devoted to fisheries issues is a testament to how important those issues are. Big and beautiful, this book would make a great addition to any coffee table.

Let Them Eat Shrimp: The Tragic Disappearance of the Rainforests of the Sea (by Kennedy Warne, $16, Island Press, 2011). Few people have spent time in mangrove forests, but most have sampled their signature product: shrimp. Unfortunately, the shrimping industry has left many mangrove forests and their residents high and dry. Warne’s writing is artistic (shrimp and mangroves are “like a pair of orbiting stars, though one shines at the expense of the other”) and the stories he tells are deeply personal, featuring a good blend of the scary (commercial shrimping will destroy the mangroves!) and the hopeful (but we can prevent it!), the mark of a high-quality conservation treatise.

State of the World’s Oceans (by Michelle Allsopp, et al., $64, Springer, 2009). If you’re looking for some light reading for a weekend at the beach, keep about the same distance from this book as you would from a washed-up jellyfish. Though it's about as dry as a book about the ocean can be, it's also the most detailed and in-depth look of any of our recommendations at the hard science behind the functioning of the ocean and its current health, with a generous portion devoted to fisheries. Here you’ll find answers to such questions as "What causes coral bleaching?" and "What are the international statutes governing deep-sea bottom trawling?" A few hours with this book will have you ocean-wise enough to hold your own against even the crustiest old seamen.

--Tim McDonnell

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