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The Closing of the Frontier

A History of the Marine Fisheries of Southeast Asia, c.1850-2000

John G Butcher

Publication Year: 2004

This book is the first on the history of the marine fisheries of Southeast Asia. It takes as its central theme the movement of fisheries into new fishing grounds, particularly the diverse ecosystems that make up the seas of Southeast Asia. This process accelerated between the 1950s and 1970s in what the author calls “the great fish race”. Catches soared as the population of the region grew, demand from Japan and North America for shrimps and tuna increased, and fishers adopted more efficient ways of locating, catching, and preserving fish. But the great fish race soon brought about the severe depletion of one fish population after another, while pollution and the destruction of mangroves and coral reefs degraded fish habitats. Today the relentless movement into new fishing grounds has come to an end, for there are no new fishing grounds to exploit. The frontier of fisheries has closed. The challenge now is to exploit the seas in ways that preserve the diversity of marine life while providing the people of the region with a source of food long into the future.

Published by: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-ix

List of Tables

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pp. x

List of Figures

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pp. xi

List of Maps

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pp. xii-xiii

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pp. xv-xviii

A great many individuals and institutions have generously helped me during the eleven years it has taken me to write this book. I am grateful to Tony Reid for asking me to contribute a volume on fisheries to the Economic History of Southeast Asia series, assisting my research in a multitude of ways, and prodding along a very slow writer. He and Linda Poskitt organized a one-day workshop at the Australian National ...


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pp. xix

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Explanatory Notes

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pp. xx-xxii

All weights and measures are expressed in metric units except when they appear in other units in a law, treaty, or other legal document. There are frequent references to the tonnage of fishing vessels but the sources sometimes do not indicate the meaning of the “ton” being used. In a few cases the tonnage may refer to “displacement tons”, specifically the weight of the water the vessel displaces, but in most cases ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-26

The seas of Southeast Asia have long provided humans with fish, shrimps, squids, whales, pearl oysters, sea cucumbers, and a multitude of other animals that they have collected and captured for medicine, oil, jewellery, and, above all else, food. But a profound change has taken place in the relationship between humans and the riches of the sea. Until the early ...

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2. The Fisheries of Southeast Asia in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 27-59

In 1850 Southeast Asia had a population of just forty million or so. The greatest concentrations of population were in Java (with perhaps a quarter of the total), Madura, Bali, the rice basins of the Menangkabau highlands of west Sumatra, the dry zone of the Irrawaddy, the flood plain of the Chao Phraya, the coast of Vietnam, Luzon, and southwest Sulawesi. There were pockets of population ...

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3. State, Economy, and Fisheries to the 1930s

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pp. 60-74

In the latter part of the nineteenth century catches of marine animals in Southeast Asia began to increase so that by the 1930s they were several times what they had been in 1850. In order to understand the rise in catches we must first step back and look at the political and economic transformation that took place at this time, for it was in the context of ...

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4. Catching More with the Same Technology, 1870s to 1930s

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pp. 75-122

As the demand for fish products grew, fishers exploited old fishing grounds more intensively with existing fishing gears and gradually moved on to exploit new fishing grounds that were ecologically similar to the old ones and so could be fished with the same fishing gears. For several decades the existing fishing gears and somewhat bigger versions of them caught enough fish to maintain roughly ...

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5. Technological Change and the Extension of the Frontier of Fisheries, 1890s to 1930s

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pp. 123-167

The Industrial Revolution generated a vast array of inventions that could be applied to the capture of fish. The most obvious of these was mechanical power. A boat powered by a steam engine or an internal combustion engine could be used to tow non-motorized boats to the fishing ground and to carry catches to market while the fishing boats remained at sea. ...

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6. The Great Fish Race

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pp. 168-233

The Japanese occupation of most of Southeast Asia from 1942 to 1945 had a devastating effect on fishing just as it did on most other economic activities. By the end of the war a great deal of equipment — boats, fishing gear, and ice plants — had been destroyed or badly damaged, imports of twine, nets, sail cloth, hooks, wire, and other materials needed for fishing had been cut off, transport ...

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7. The Closing of the Frontier

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pp. 234-292

The late 1970s and early 1980s may be taken as an important turning point in the history of the extension of the frontier of fishing in Southeast Asian waters. It was at this time that the Indonesian government banned trawl fishing in most of the sea under its jurisdiction and that governments throughout Southeast Asia claimed their offshore waters as exclusive economic zones. ...


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pp. 293-369

Appendix 1

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pp. 370-372

Appendix 2

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pp. 373

Appendix 3

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pp. 374


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pp. 375-387

Notes and Sources for Maps and Figures

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pp. 388-393


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pp. 394-433


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pp. 435-442

The Author

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pp. 443

E-ISBN-13: 9789812305404
Print-ISBN-13: 9789812302236

Page Count: 443
Publication Year: 2004

Edition: 1