The most impressive chapters of this book are those focused on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With considerable nuance, they explore the many and complex legal and illegal ways that people involved in salmon fishing and canning exploited for their own benefit the different economic, political, and regulatory regimes on either side of the international border. That international dimension to the history lends the history of the Fraser River a fascinating distinctiveness. Although the border often facilitated people’s efforts to further their own interests, it also stymied efforts at salmon conservation. Wadewitz includes race, ethnicity, gender, and class in a study that may yet be most appropriately categorized as a borderlands environmental history. She includes the relatively powerless fishermen, cannery workers, and fish trap watchmen of aboriginal, Asian, and European extraction, the powerful and wealthy cannery owners, fish trap owners, and government officials who sought to control the industry, and the defiant fish bandits (who illegally caught fish in one country and sold in the other) and fish pirates (who stole salmon from fish traps). Those who would regulate and police the fishing and canning industries faced impediments and obstacles so large that they could not hope to accomplish their goals. Among the obstacles was the fact that the victims of illegal activity (poaching, banditry, piracy, and illegal migration across the border) were often also perpetrators, abettors, or beneficiaries. Poachers and fish pirates were perceived among at least some of the public as underdogs and Robin Hoods, “stealing” from the wealthiest cannery and fish trap owners, to the advantage of the little guy. However, in “saving” salmon from illegal harvest in one country’s waters, law enforcement officials might easily be perceived as allowing fish to cross the border where foreigners would benefit from the harvest. It is a complex world, indeed, that is revealed in The Nature of Borders.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Law and salmon fishing
The latest Environmental History includes a review by Ted Binnema of Lisa Wadewitz's The Nature of Borders: Salmon, Boundaries, and Bandits on the Salish Sea (U of Washington Press, 2012). Calling it an "impressive study", Binnema writes: