The Fishermen's Frontier
People and Salmon in Southeast Alaska
David F. Arnold
Foreword by William Cronon
- Published: 2008
- Subject Listing: Environmental History, Western History, Native American Studies
- Bibliographic information: 296 pp., 24 illus., 18 charts, map, notes, bibliog., index, 6 x 9 in.
- Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
In The Fishermen's Frontier, David Arnold examines the economic, social, cultural, and political context in which salmon have been harvested in southeast Alaska over the past 250 years. He starts with the aboriginal fishery, in which Native fishers lived in close connection with salmon ecosystems and developed rituals and lifeways that reflected their intimacy.
The transformation of the salmon fishery in southeastern Alaska from an aboriginal resource to an industrial commodity has been fraught with historical ironies. Tribal peoples - usually considered egalitarian and communal in nature - managed their fisheries with a strict notion of property rights, while Euro-Americans - so vested in the notion of property and ownership - established a common-property fishery when they arrived in the late nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, federal conservation officials tried to rationalize the fishery by "improving" upon nature and promoting economic efficiency, but their uncritical embrace of scientific planning and their disregard for local knowledge degraded salmon habitat and encouraged a backlash from small-boat fishermen, who clung to their "irrational" ways. Meanwhile, Indian and white commercial fishermen engaged in identical labors, but established vastly different work cultures and identities based on competing notions of work and nature.
Arnold concludes with a sobering analysis of the threats to present-day fishing cultures by forces beyond their control. However, the salmon fishery in southeastern Alaska is still very much alive, entangling salmon, fishermen, industrialists, scientists, and consumers in a living web of biological and human activity that has continued for thousands of years.
David F. Arnold is professor of history at Columbia Basin College, Pasco, Washington. He has also worked extensively in the commercial salmon fisheries of Alaska.
"In this graceful and generous book, David Arnold shows us that salmon are not only good to eat, they are good to think with. By focusing on the history of the people in Alaska who have brought salmon to the table, he puts salmon at the center of an incredibly tangled set of human relationships - political, economic, and social. He illustrates quite wonderfully how much looking at people at work in the natural world can tell us about human society." - Richard White, Stanford University
"A carefully researched, sprightly, and balanced account of complex interactions over time among different peoples, social customs, and the environment." - Norris Hundley, professor emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles
"Arnold does a great job on the background and cultural history of the Tlingit and their relationship with the sea and salmon fishing." - Andy Ebona, Alaska Native Brotherhood, Camp 2
"Arnold has presented a complete story, chronologically, topically, and historiographically. He has managed to give the reader a unified grasp of an extraordinarily complex and often contentious element in environmental and regional history. This book is really a tour de force." - Stephen Haycox, author of Alaska, An American Colony
"Because The Fisherman's Frontier looks beyond the classic role of the fishery in Alaska and, instead, tells a story of fishermen and how their relationship with the natural environment changed over time, Alaskans as well as the many folk who make their living fishing northern waters will appreciate this book." - Katherine Johnson Ringsmuth, author of Snug Harbor Cannery: A Beacon on the Forgotten Shore, 1919-1980