The Nature of Borders

Salmon, Boundaries, and Bandits on the Salish Sea

Lissa K. Wadewitz

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: History / Western History; Environmental Studies; Native American and Indigenous Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 384 pp., 27 bandw illus., 7 maps, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Emil and Kathleen Sick Book Series in Western History and Biography
  • Contents

Winner of the 2014 Albert Corey Prize from the American Historical Association
Winner of the 2013 Hal Rothman Award from the Western History Association
Winner of the 2013 John Lyman Book Award in the Naval and Maritime Science and Technology category from the North American Society for Oceanic History

For centuries, borders have been central to salmon management customs on the Salish Sea, but how those borders were drawn has had very different effects on the Northwest salmon fishery. Native peoples who fished the Salish Sea - which includes Puget Sound in Washington State, the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca - drew social and cultural borders around salmon fishing locations and found ways to administer the resource in a sustainable way. Nineteenth-century Euro-Americans, who drew the Anglo-American border along the forty-ninth parallel, took a very different approach and ignored the salmon's patterns and life cycle. As the canned salmon industry grew and more people moved into the region, class and ethnic relations changed. Soon illegal fishing, broken contracts, and fish piracy were endemic - conditions that contributed to rampant overfishing, social tensions, and international mistrust. The Nature of Borders is about the ecological effects of imposing cultural and political borders on this critical West Coast salmon fishery.

This transnational history provides an understanding of the modern Pacific salmon crisis and is particularly instructive as salmon conservation practices increasingly approximate those of the pre-contact Native past. The Nature of Borders reorients borderlands studies toward the Canada-U.S. border and also provides a new view of how borders influenced fishing practices and related management efforts over time.

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Lissa K. Wadewitz is assistant professor of history and environmental studies at Linfield College in McMinniville, Oregon.

"Wadewitz identifies an important environmental historical problem - how people make and challenge boundaries - and situates her investigation in a rich and complex case. It would be hard to imagine a site better suited to a transnational investigation in environmental history than the Salish Sea."
-Matthew Evenden, author of Fish versus Power: An Environmental History of the Fraser River

"An excellent and timely examination of how humans have organized ecological and social space across time, and of the implications of boundary making processes on people and nature alike."
-Joseph E. Taylor III, author of Making Salmon: An Environmental History of the Northwest Fishery Crisis

Pacific Borders: An Introduction

1. Native Borders
2. Fish, Fur, and Faith
3. Remaking Native Space
4. Fishing the Line: Border Bandits and Labor Unrest
5. Pirates of the Salish Sea
6. Policing the Border
7. Conclusion: The Future of Salish Sea Salmon


"At the risk of straining the metaphor, her book explores uncharted waters and does so masterfully. Wadewitz has just set the bar incredibly high for future historians who also want to turn their backs to the land and gaze out to those coastal waters."
-Sheila M. McManus, H-Borderlands, September 2012

"Here is a well-written Northwest history from a different angle."
-Mike Dillon, City Living, September 2012

"An excellent book that covers much ground and joins in the project of reorienting borderlands history in North America. It is suitable for both a lay audience and for use in the classroom."
-Evan C. Rothera, Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources, February 2013

"This well-written book should appeal to a varied readership. Readers interested in Native salmon culture and its perseverance in the face of Euro-American domination will benefit from the comprehensive analysis. Aficionados of labor and migration history will profit from the discussion of the fishing and canning industries."
-Ken Zontek, Pacific Northwest Quarterly

"Environmental historians have understood for some time...that political boundaries have complicated the management of ecosystems and valuable migrating species. In her persuasive and innovative book, Lissa K. Wadewitz combines these developments, along with new thinking about Native American history, labor history, and even a dose of diplomatic history, to examine salmon fishing in the Salish Sea."
-Kurk Dorsey, American Historical Review

"While it will be of great interest to specialists in salmon conservation and management, its thorough empirical exploration of the development and contestation of different forms of border should give it wider appeal to environmental historians and geographers. It is well-written throughout and the illustrations are of high quality...this volume provides a valuable education through which contemporary fishery managers might learn from the past."
-Christopher Bear, Environment and History