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Clearing the Coastline

The Nineteenth-Century Ecological & Cultural Transformations of Cape Cod

Matthew McKenzie

In just over a century Cape Cod was transformed from barren agricultural wasteland to bountiful fishery to pastoral postcard wilderness suitable for the tourist trade. This complex social, ecological, and scientific transformation fundamentally altered how Cape Codders used and managed their local marine resources, and determined how they eventually lost them. The Cape Cod story takes the usual land-use progression—from pristine wilderness to exploitation of resources to barren wasteland—and turns it on its head. Clearing the Coastline shows how fishermen abandoned colonial traditions of small-scale fisheries management, and how ecological, cultural, and scientific changes, as well as commercial pressures, eroded established, local conservation regimes. Without these protections, small fish and small fishermen alike were cleared from Cape Cod’s coastal margins to make room for new people, whose reinvention of the Cape as a pastoral “wilderness” allowed them to overlook the social and ecological dislocation that came before.

Paper: $35 | E-book: $34.99
ISBN-13: 9781584659198
Pages: 248 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: January 11, 2011
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“An authoritative and compelling narrative that promises to be one of the best books on New England fishing in the last few decades.”

Richard Judd, University of Maine

Reviews

  • [W]ell-documented treatise . . . McKenzie convincingly argues that the inshore (alewife, herring, menhaden) bait fishery-evolving from small-scale regulation of fish runs (up rivers to spawning grounds) to commercial exploitation (using pound nets)-was the major force steering the region’s economy, culture, and ecology. The scope of scholarship is large, ranging from detailed catch data obtained from old town records to interpretations of nineteenth-century literature and pastoral art. . . . Recommended

    Choice
  • McKenzie’s analysis shows in a systematic and engaging way how locals deployed their ecological knowledge to maintain a balance between conservation, subsistence, and development. At the same time, he takes care not to glorify them, explaining that small-scale inshore fishermen equipped with basic hand lines 'filled a local niche where immediate needs could be met with little cost, effort, or overhead.

    Journal of the History of Biology
  • This is a finely crafted book. McKenzie moves deftly between anecdotal and quantitative evidence, historiographical and ecological contextual information, and cogent interpretation, driving his chronological narrative toward convincing ends. Above all, he is honest. In the few places where evidence is limited, McKenzie makes it transparent, which adds credibility to all his claims. One of the first books to focus specifically on bait and bait fishers, Clearing the Coastline merits a prominent place among histories of the sea.

    Environmental History
  • McKenzie’s strength is in his discussion of the fisheries themselves. He does an excellent job of describing not only the relationship between the fisheries and those that depended upon them, but also the fish and the processes necessary to get their catch to their final consumer. These sections of his book are lively, well written and engaging, peopled by characters that give life to his story. His chapter on pound nets is not just good but excellent.

    International Journal of Maritime History
  • An authoritative and compelling narrative that promises to be one of the best books on New England fishing in the last few decades.

    Richard Judd, University of Maine

About the Author

Matthew G. McKenzie

Matthew G. McKenzie is an assistant professor of History at the University of Connecticut-Avery Point.

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