In “Rough Waters,” author Nancy Danielson Mendenhall takes aim at the industrialization and privatization of fishing and sets out to tell the stories of small-scale fishermen and their working life.

Mendenhall argues that while scientists and regulators search for a better understanding of fish stocks and how to protect them, no one is trying to save small commercial fishermen and the communities that depend on them while huge catcher-freezer vessels are promoted without much question.

This book is a comprehensive guide to fisheries management, from the passing on the Magnuson Act, development on EEZs and the eight regional fishery councils to the adoption of catch shares (which she says will always favor industrial fleets) and problems with NMFS stock assessments.

While this book is packed with information, it isn’t a textbook. Nor is it an op-ed. Mendenhall, who comes from generations of small-boat commercial fishermen in Norway and has worked in Alaska for 50 years, explores this topic through a series of interviews, calling on the experiences of her extended friends and family who catch fish. (She chose not to include interviews with NOAA or industrial fleet owners. “They’re readily available on the web,” she writes.)

She talks with her cousin George, who says he wouldn’t be able to get a start in fishing today because it’s too expensive and he’d have to find a rare hand-trolling permit for sale. She outlines her friend Esther’s experience growing up in Ekuk on Bristol Bay when canneries were still the center of a lively community. She writes about why she cringes every summer when the Anchorage daily paper publishes a photo showing scores of sport fishermen casting for salmon on one of Alaska’s rivers, crammed elbow-to-elbow.

Along with personal anecdotes and fish tales, Mendenhall researched books, videos, newspapers, landings reports, blogs, websites and even a couple of National Fisherman Mail Buoy letters to make sure she covered every angle on the North Pacific small fishermen’s battle.

With “Rough Waters,” Mendenhall documents a way of life with exhaustive research and reporting. This history of the fishing fleet and its struggle is more intimate than what you’ll find in the news and official reports and more extensive and accurate than your grandfather’s memoirs. 


Rough Waters

By Nancy Danielson Mendenhall

Far Eastern Press, 2015



Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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