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Owning the Ocean: Alaska Fishermen and Bristol Bay Salmon, 1930-38

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Abstract:

Throughout the twentieth century, Bristol Bay, a 45,000-square mile arm of the eastern Bering Sea fed by half a dozen major rivers and dozens of smaller streams, was the world’s largest and most valuable red (sockeye) salmon fishery. In the 1930s, the annual salmon pack in Bristol Bay measured up to fifty million pounds with a value of $12 million. White Alaska fishermen depended on salmon for their economic livelihoods and established a cultural identity through their labor and interaction with the environment. The intrusion of Japanese fishing vessels to Bristol Bay in 1937—what Alaskans invariably referred to as an “invasion”—not only fed the fishermen’s anxiety over the imperialist ambitions of the Asian nation, but forced them to confront their own identity-based conceptualizations of the ocean environment and their presumed ownership of the salmon, an anadromous species that spends parts of its life cycle in both territorial and international waters. Legislative and diplomatic efforts to exclude all foreign fishermen from Bristol Bay cited both the region’s unique environmental characteristics and patterns of historical use by Alaskans in an attempt to define the fishery as exclusively American. Probably the most innovative bioenvironmental justification was offered by Alaska’s congressional delegate who posited that because the salmon were born in interior rivers, streams, and lakes, they remained domestic possessions even when as adults they migrated to the open ocean. This paper examines the ways Alaskans interacted with and understood the salmon, the physical environment of Bristol Bay, the conceptual nature of ocean borders, and how those conceptualizations entered the political and diplomatic discourse on the eve of the Second World War.
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Association:
Name: ASEH Conference – San Francisco
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http://aseh.net


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p680055_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Coen, Ross. "Owning the Ocean: Alaska Fishermen and Bristol Bay Salmon, 1930-38" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Conference – San Francisco, Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, San Francisco, California, <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p680055_index.html>

APA Citation:

Coen, R. "Owning the Ocean: Alaska Fishermen and Bristol Bay Salmon, 1930-38" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Conference – San Francisco, Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, San Francisco, California <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p680055_index.html

Publication Type: Panel Paper
Abstract: Throughout the twentieth century, Bristol Bay, a 45,000-square mile arm of the eastern Bering Sea fed by half a dozen major rivers and dozens of smaller streams, was the world’s largest and most valuable red (sockeye) salmon fishery. In the 1930s, the annual salmon pack in Bristol Bay measured up to fifty million pounds with a value of $12 million. White Alaska fishermen depended on salmon for their economic livelihoods and established a cultural identity through their labor and interaction with the environment. The intrusion of Japanese fishing vessels to Bristol Bay in 1937—what Alaskans invariably referred to as an “invasion”—not only fed the fishermen’s anxiety over the imperialist ambitions of the Asian nation, but forced them to confront their own identity-based conceptualizations of the ocean environment and their presumed ownership of the salmon, an anadromous species that spends parts of its life cycle in both territorial and international waters. Legislative and diplomatic efforts to exclude all foreign fishermen from Bristol Bay cited both the region’s unique environmental characteristics and patterns of historical use by Alaskans in an attempt to define the fishery as exclusively American. Probably the most innovative bioenvironmental justification was offered by Alaska’s congressional delegate who posited that because the salmon were born in interior rivers, streams, and lakes, they remained domestic possessions even when as adults they migrated to the open ocean. This paper examines the ways Alaskans interacted with and understood the salmon, the physical environment of Bristol Bay, the conceptual nature of ocean borders, and how those conceptualizations entered the political and diplomatic discourse on the eve of the Second World War.


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