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  • Managed Annihilation: An Unnatural History of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse
  • Sean Cadigan
Managed Annihilation: An Unnatural History of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse. Dean Bavington. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010. Pp. 186, $32.95

This book examines 'the history of, and possible alternatives to, managerial responses to environmental issues' through a case study of the collapse of the northern cod fishery off Newfoundland and Labrador by 1992 (xxv). The author's interdisciplinary background in biology, sociology, geography, and environmental studies supports a compelling theory of the interaction of fisheries science, state policy, and industrial development in the northern cod disaster.

Bavington locates the development of Newfoundland fisheries management in the colonial government's desire to promote fisheries industrialization in the late nineteenth century. Initially, governments supported fisheries science and management to guarantee profits by predicting and controlling annual fluctuations in catches. By the late 1940s, Newfoundland and Canadian scientists and officials had embraced quantitative population analysis, believing that they could calculate maximum sustainable yields from data on reproductive rates, growth rates, natural mortality, and fishing mortality.

Fisheries managers, to 1992, felt they could either control or at least maintain cod stocks through their calculations. Their study of fish population dynamics assumed that fishers' behaviour conformed to rational market principles. As it became apparent that population modelling was not at least maintaining cod stocks in equilibrium, managers and scientists took for granted that fishers behaved outside of the parameters of their models because of the common property and open-access nature of fish. The solution was to control access internationally by the establishment of Canada's 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone in 1977. Domestically, managers used quota, licensing, and more diverse industrial development programs to further [End Page 367] the rationalization, industrialization, and concentration of capital in the fisheries that had first come into full swing under the Smallwood governments of the 1950s and 1960s. Paradoxically, by the late 1980s northern cod faced an onslaught by the consequent corporate offshore fishery and its wage labourers. These workers were completely alienated from the more sustainable moral dependency on particular populations of cod of their forbears in the small-scale 'peasant' inshore fishery (18).

Scientific management had aimed at making fishers and fish conform to the unfounded presuppositions of the market models adhered to by scientists, bureaucrats, and their industrial masters. The resulting collapse of northern cod led fisheries managers to embrace ecological uncertainty rather than the overcapitalization of the industry as the problem. Since 1992, managers have perceived fisheries as 'self-organizing, holarchic, and open' (44) in a 'post-normal scientific approach' (46). While such an approach appears to support a more progressive ecosystem-based fisheries management, it posits that all relationships among society, economy, and ecology are chaotic and practically unpredictable. The only possible management is contingent and based on the input of 'stakeholders' in 'participatory co-management' (79). This new management dovetails with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans' neo-liberal downloading of the cost of science onto a variety of monitoring programs implemented by and/or paid for by new capitalist fish harvesters. These harvesters are completely market-oriented and accepting of new forms of industrial regimentation of the oceans such as in aquaculture. The new harvesters bear almost none of the older moral values that the book maintains are important to a more environmentally sustainable relationship between fishers and fish.

Bavington's theory rests on the analyses of the fishery that appeared after 1992 and the environmental literature's critiques of Western science and management. The book rarely provides new evidence about historical actors; there is much discussion of science, management, and industry, but almost no discussion of actual scientists, managers, industrialists, or fishers. The opportunity now is to examine Bavington's theories historically. Fisheries scientists and bureaucrats have received too much attention; the time has come to study the historical context of the specific capitalist relations that defined their failures. Given the book's assumptions about the inherent virtues of small-scale inshore fisheries, it would be useful to study the role of the fishers' union, the Fishers, Food, and Allied Workers (FFAW), in fisheries management. The FFAW represents almost all fishers and fish-processing workers...


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