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on 10 August 2012
I came to this book after reading Sylvia Earle's books on Sea Change and Why the Planet is guilt about plugging these at the same time. Eminently readable and full of historical flash back, putting the present era within the longer perspective. Callum Roberts also features in the DVD The End of the Line, and his cheery smiling face contrasts chillingly with and commensurately increases the import of his message. This book is a must read for all interested in marine life, the future of the oceans and the essential food chain within in. Fish are the basic food of a large proportion of the population of the planet; without fish the food crisis will enter nuclear proportions. The impact of factory fishing cannot be overstated - as a diver I'm always shocked when I enter the waters around the UK (Wales,usually) as I always feel 'something is missing''s the fish!! And not only the fish but the variety of life underwater....oh, and the startling increase in jellyfish. Can we eat these? And when you've read this, buy his next book, published this year - 'Ocean of Life'. I promise you if you have any capacity for reason you will listen to the science and concur that we need to act now. Informative and inspiring.
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on 19 May 2014
Disturbing look into the future from the perspective of our use and abuse of the seas. Essential reading for those interested in the further of mankind.

Emphasises our responsibility to all living things through this shared and dominant ecozone, which we are polluting and damaging on a daily basis. For those with a short term view of 'It'll be OK in my lifetime', think hard it won't be in your grandchildrens'
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on 14 June 2008
I was initially put off picking this book up by the fact that it has a commendation from Greenpeace on the front cover. However it is well researched and wonderfully written with the authors own easy style interspersed with quotations from various well chosen historical sources. He really manages to bring home how much we have changed our marine environment through over-exploitation of its natural resources (fish, whales etc).

I have some issues with the suggestion by the author that management of the ocean is currently split between Marine Reserves (0.6%) and what he calls an "Extensive Exploitation Area" (the rest). Much of this area I am sure could be regarded as Managed Zones (or perhaps "not very well managed zones"). His suggestions for the future management of the sea concur with those of the green fin brigade who think that we need to completely ban fishing from most of the ocean. Many others would suggest that what we really need to do is ensure effective management over all of the ocean in a manner that works with fishermen rather than against them.

I found this to be a really well written and informative book. If you are at all interested in the sea and marine life you should read it.
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on 29 September 2008
This book is about the sea, but the same story could be told for mans exploitation of the land ecosystems. Only the inpoverishment occured earlier on land (Martin & Klein 1984). And this is the punchline of the book: shifting baselines is decieving the average spectator into believing, that nature wasn't much in the first place. This argument can still be heard. Why conserve nature if it wasn't much in the first place? The author of the book lists up the disasters and in doing so depicts the very much different nature there once was - and that can be again one day, if only we allow it. Please read this book.
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HALL OF FAMEon 4 February 2008
The problem with the oceans is that you can't see what's going on down there. Foresters can count trees, birdwatchers have "life lists", but fishery managers can only weigh a catch and guesstimate the numbers. That's the fish that are landed - those and other life caught in nets or hooks disappear uncounted and unreported. "Counting" fish has been a problem since ancient times and the sea has remained a realm of mystery right up to the present. Ironically, as Callum Roberts points out in this informative study, it's those who have harvested sea life - often in immeasurable quantities, who have helped reveal something of what goes on beneath the waves.

Roberts understands the need for fishers. Sea life is a substantial form of protein, particularly when land animals are expensive or unattainable. Men have fished from shore, from coast-hugging boats and from ships drawing a wide variety of gear through the water seeking dinner for demanding thousands. Anyone casting into the nearest river or lake will describe fish as "fickle", unresponsive to the most adroitly placed lure. Ocean fishers, however, trailing extended nets or other gear have the same complaint for other reasons. Where have the fish gone? Roberts points out that human fishing of the seas has undergone three revolutions - trawl nets in the 14th Century, steam power, and deep ocean fishing in the 20th Century. Each of these revolutions was a step in finding the missing fish. Each has proven a way to exhaust the ocean's bounty in a short time. The fish have disappeared.

As he tours through time and place, the author portrays the greed and unreflecting view of fishers, government and even science. There's a great irony in this story in the person of Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin's champion in expanding recognition of the theory of natural selection. Huxley, in a British government enquiry into how "beam trawls" affected fishing, firmly declared that stirring up the bottom with weighted nets actually brought up nutrients for the fish. Their numbers would increase from the practice, not diminish! Such was the state of knowledge of the seas only a century and a half past. Knowledge has improved but little in the ensuing time period, and what has been learned has been even more detrimental to the fish. Powerful ships, huge, heavy nets and sonar have given fishers valuable tools in locating shoals. Yet, the number of fish available is clearly diminishing. Why is that?

The chief reason is failure to understand the ecology of the seas. Counting catch methods tend to focus on single, usually prime species. The effect of removing large numbers of these is too poorly known. It has long been assumed that removing the larger individuals allows more opportunity for the younger fish to feed and breed. Is that a valid belief? In Canada, over a decade after a "moratorium" on cod fishing, the stocks have not recovered. One reason seems to be that older fish, knowing the spawning sites for their group - and each site apparently has its own group - aren't there to show the youngsters the way. Other fisheries have depleted the cod's prey species, keeping the existing fish small and resource deprived. Similar circumstances occur in other locations. The dredging of sea bottoms has turned food chain foundations into oceanic deserts. This seems particularly true around seamounts, which Roberts terms "refuelling stops" for large predator species such as tuna. In effect, present fishing methods are eliminating parts of the food chain - from bottom-feeders to the very top - which includes this reviewer and his readers, you. Modern fishing techniques also produce immense amount of "bycatch", undesired species, along with other animals such as turtles and sea birds such as the albatross. Are there solutions to prevent the elimination of many forms of ocean life and restore those links in the food chain?

Roberts' last three chapters deserve the closest study by fishers, international agencies and everybody who eats fish. The numbers he presents are appalling: three-tenths of one per cent of fish stocks estimated for only a couple of centuries ago. Species counts list one "collapse" after another, and bottom trawling has decimated huge areas. There is, however, a cure in the offing. Diving in various areas, the author has seen what can be accomplished by ocean reserves. Originally founded in some cases by researchers experimenting in selected sites, these areas were banned for fishing, in some cases actually fenced off to intruders. The rebounding of stocks, plus the time granted them to grow to substantial size, shows how effective the reserve can be. Projecting from some suggested proposals, Roberts concludes that ocean reserves be established over 30% or more of the seas. That preserved area, in collaboration with seven proposals for new fisheries management could lead to a fully sustainable recovery of fish stocks. It's a formula that requires immediate attention and implementation. Is your government strong enough to assist in this seas-saving project? [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 9 January 2016
This book is a Bible for any marine biologist, historian, diver, seafood lover, environmentalist, fisherman or anyone who is interested in marine life. Roberts' book is perhaps the best effort I have ever come across for putting ocean life today into context - he has made a tremendous effort to find obscure and esoteric records of fisheries and ocean life dating back as far to the first settlements in America, medieval fisheries, and some of the first ever accounts of fishing in the world . It isn't really fair to consider ocean ecosystems today without the knowledge that Roberts has so meticulously collected, and written about so well. I would say this is probably the best book about marine life I have ever read, and would highly recommend it.

Most people are aware of overfishing, and the fact that animals like turtles and whales are endangered, but most people probably aren't aware of the abundance they once existed in; Roberts mentions pre-exploitation numbers of 100 million green turtles in the Caribbean, and many million of whales before whaling almost drove all of them to extinction. He goes into detail about the degradation of pretty much all major rivers, which once had tremendous fertility that will seem surprising today. The unique historical context that Roberts provides is this book's most valuable asset.
The prose is surprisingly literary for a book about science, and contributes to the impassioned, often depressing and at many times horrifying line of argument. Despite this, Roberts is a scientist, and does not give the stereotypical 'save the Earth' type monologues; all assertions are backed up with credible and meticulously evaluated scientific and historical evidence.
With the context of the distant past established, Roberts describes the further onslaught of new technologies on the sea, goes into great detail about long-forgotten efforts from Thomas Huxley & Co. to establish if it was a cause for concern, and the establishment of (and lack of) sufficient laws to make fishing sustainable. He makes analogies to life on land, and highlights the often poorly highlighted fact that seafood is wildlife, and is as fragile as any equivalents on land to exploitation.
The context of the past gives new light to his accounts of the state of today's fisheries, and how many have completely eradicated populations of species, and continue to do so. The Anthropocene Extinction is ongoing today as much as it is a thing of the past. Bluefin tuna, despite being a critically endangered species (making it more endangered than the Bengal tiger, White rhinoceros and many whales and sea turtles) is still commercially fished on an industrial scale. This is only one example in a comprehensive account of mass extinction.
Despite all the depressing detail, Roberts describes the sea's resilience and its ability to recover, and sets out the steps that need to be taken for fishing and seafood consumption to continue.
I thought this book was really interesting, informative and enjoyable to read
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on 18 June 2009
The tale and the facts backing it up are crushing.

I was overwhelmed by the numbers, the tonnage of animals that are estimated to have been taken . It is crushing to comprehend the scale of greed and the absoloute vandalism that we have perpertrated upon sea animals. For example killing many millions of one type of seals for their fur discarding their flesh, while killing as many million of other types of seals for the flesh and blubber while discarding their skins.

Its a history of shamefull rape and pillage over the last 1000 yrs, and everywhere throughout the centuaries the same thing, no fish left, no lessons learned, no strong legislation to protect the oceans, just incalculable damage to the web of life of the oceans and by consequence elsewhere aswell.

A book that makes you very angry and very sad at the same time, but so worth reading, the world has got to get to grips with over fishing! read this book and try get others to read it too
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on 7 September 2013
Essential reading for those becoming aware of man's destruction of our planet. Should be necessary reading for schools to educate the young about the need for the young generations to be different to the older.
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on 13 June 2013
I bought this book in preparation of an night class I was to begin teaching in marine science. It is a well written account of the history of fishing from medievil times to present day, the changes in technology and the impact this has had on the target fish species and the ocean environment as a whole. Some chapters are not easy to read but despite the depressing tone of the third section of the book it does finish with a note of optimism. It is written in lay language so non-science folk can follow it easily.

A must for all maritime and nature fans.
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on 7 April 2016
If you have any interest in natural history though to rod and line angling you need to read this book.
The contents will scare you as the insight into the world of commercial fishing in all its forms shows the religious zeal for financial gain over sustainability.
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