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The Fishermen's Frontier

People and Salmon in Southeast Alaska

by David F. Arnold

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: University of Washington Press


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p. vii-vii

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Foreword: On the Saltwater Margins of a Northern Frontier by William Cronon

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pp. ix-xiv

It has long been almost a cliché to refer to Alaska as America’s “last frontier.” Many of the attributes that characterized other frontier regions have persisted longer there than almost anywhere else in the nation. As with so many other frontiers, waves of immigrants have mingled with, exploited, and sometimes displaced the indigenous populations who have inhabited these far northern environs for millennia. Natives and newcomers for the past three centuries have found themselves enmeshed ....

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pp. xv-xvii

We live in a postmodern world. As consumers of television, of processed food, and even of nature, we experience much of life as spectators. Corporations—what agrarian writer Wendell Berry calls “proxies”—produce our food, our shelter, our clothing, our entertainment. The postmodern mentality suggests that one reality is never superior to another. All realities simply reveal different contexts: a weed in the Disneyland parking lot and a giant sequoia are both “nature”; fishing for salmon...

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Introduction: The Fishermen's Frontier in Southeast Alaska

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pp. 3-12

The idea of nature contains, though often unnoticed, an extraordinary amount of human history.—Raymond Williams, Problems in Materialism and Culture Surveying the literature on the Pacific salmon fisheries, one notices a distinct trend. It is primarily about decline. It echoes a larger narrative about the destruction of the natural environment under the forces of colonization, capitalism, and industrialization. It is a story of the mythic natural abundance that existed in North America before the arrival of ...

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1. First Fishermen: The Aboriginal Salmon Fishery

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pp. 13-39

In pleading with industrialists to conserve the dwindling stocks of Alaska salmon, Charles D. Garfield, a member of Alaska’s Territorial Fish Commission, described Native Americans wantonly slaughtering spawning salmon with little concern for the future. In his visit to the Chilkat and Chilkoot rivers during the summer of 1919, Garfield apparently witnessed ...

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2. The Industrial Transformation of the Indian Salmon Fishery, 1780s–1910s

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pp. 40-74

By and by they began to build canneries and take the creeks away from us . . . and when we told them these creeks belonged to us, they would not pay any attention to us and said all this country belonged to President, the big chief at Washington....We make this complaint because we are very poor now. The time will come when we will not have anything left.... We also ask [the chief at Washington] to return...

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3. Federal Conservation, Fish Traps, and the Struggle to Control the Fishery, 1889–1959

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pp. 75-119

Any practical fisherman knows more about fish than a whole army of book-Whatever his name may be... he is predestined when he accepts the position of Commissioner of Fisheries, to be a hated man. We are Americans, a free people in a free land, yet we are ruled by a dictator as surely as if we were controlled by the Nazi Government. Fishing is our life. When the salmon come in the spring, they...

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4. Work, Nature, Race, and Culture on the Fishermen's Frontier, 1900s–1950s

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pp. 120-155

The salmon fishery in Southeast Alaska was nothing if not a landscape of work: salmon labored upstream, fishermen labored to catch them, cannery workers to process them, and fisheries managers to conserve them. The process began with the salmon—but was quickly elaborated...

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5. The Closing of the Fishermen's Frontier, 1950s–2000s

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pp. 156-189

Over time, everything changed. Fishermen changed, cabins bristled with electronics. The fish couldn’t hide. New boats were made of steel. The new men were made of deals and debt. They went longer and farther, for less and less. Competition increased. The fish declined. The government came in, and all was lost ...

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Epilogue: Endangered Species?

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pp. 190-196

In 1980, Peter Larkin, one of the world’s leading fisheries biologists, tried to assess the present and predict the future of the Pacific salmon fisheries. Paraphrasing Dickens, Larkin contended that 1980 was both the best of times and the worst of times. It was the best of times, Larkin believed, because the price of salmon was at an all-time high, technological ...


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pp. 197-236

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 237-258


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pp. 259-267

E-ISBN-13: 9780295989754
E-ISBN-10: 0295989750
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295991375
Print-ISBN-10: 0295991372

Publication Year: 2008