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George Bank.

The Georges Bank region has figured importantly in marine affairs for literally hundreds of years-for whales, for cod, certainly, and many other finfishes and shellfishes-and now, potentially, for oil. Science in the region is much more recent; Charles Wilkes produced the first chart based on an organized survey in 1837. Fisheries research dates from 1970's, but sputtered a bit after the death of Spencer F. Baird in 1897. W. Redwood Wright divides the research in this important area into five different periods between the middle 1800's and the present-and all are thoroughly and excellently covered in "Georges Bank," an immense, scholarly, and thorough treatise edited by Richard Backus and published by The MIT Press, 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, MA 02142. The collective scholarship, reviews, and editing that have gone into this huge book seem almost without parallel. The many authors are well established scientists--the NMFS Woods Hole Laboratory personnel (and others) are well represented-and the contributions are authoritative and well written. The mechanics-illustrations, layout, design, color reproduction, printing, and binding-are excellent. The writing and editing are superb; and even though much of the material is technical, jargon has been minimized, so the book is very readable, in fact enjoyable, in most parts.

Alone, the historical chapters in this volume would make a wonderful book. They include an introductory historical review of scientific research on Georges Bank by W. Redwood Wright, and the region's cartographic history between 1524 and 1850. Then, in section III, "The Fisheries," is Andrew German's fine history of the area's early fisheries (1720-1930), Richard Hennemuth's history of fisheries conservation and management there, and Keith Smith's discussion of the fishing vessels and gear used in New England between 1930 and 1983.

In addition, there are shorter contributions on dory fishing on Georges Bank-R. Wayne Anderson's condensation of oral histories given him by four former dorymen and schooner captains; Donald W. Bourne's pictorial review of some of the important Georges Bank fishing vessels; and fisherman James P Ostergard's personal reminiscence, "My First Trip on Georges Bank;' about his trip asea during the 1973 New Bedford strike aboard an old eastern-rigged 80 foot dragger named the Blue Sea. And a short article by Backus describes "Death on Georges Bank," the many hazards faced by the early commercial fishermen. In another short contribution, he explores, historically, the question, "Does Georges Shoal Ever Dry?" In yet another vignette, Barbara B. McCorkle tells "How the Bank Got Its Name," noting that the first reference to it was on the 1611 manuscript map listing it as "S. Georges Banck."

Socioeconomics of the New England offshore fishery are also reviewed and discussed in section III. Other chapters relate the Canadian fishery in the Georges Bank region and the U.S.-Canadian boundary dispute. Another article reviews and compares Canadian and U.S. fisheries administration and management and the implications for the Georges Bank area. Bradford E. Brown reviews the Georges Bank fishery resources and provides synopses of the major species, along with an interesting table summarizing the pertinent data for each species (i.e., geographic range and stock structure, growth at age, age range in fished populations, recruitment, maturity, natural and fishing mortality, and much, much more. Other important chapters discuss fish population dynamics and the future for fisheries management on Georges Bank.

Section IV gets to the crux of the matter-the conflicting uses that the region may be subjected to-and provides perspectives on the petroleum potential on Georges Bank, potential problems with petroleum development and the fisheries resources, effects of drilling effluents on marine organisms, etc. Also examined are environmental protection programs, the politics of oil drilling, and the exploratory drilling done in 1981-82-eight dry holes. Another article discusses marine surface traffic problems.

Additional important chapters relating directly to fisheries resources are presented in section II, Biology," which is subdivided into "Phytoplankton, Primary Production, and Microbiology" and Zoology and Secondary Production." Most of the chapters here would be of at least some, if not considerable interest to fisheries professionals. It leads off with articles on phytoplankton and primary production, nitrogen cycling, microbiology, zooplankton life cycles, zooplankton production and the fisheries of the northeastern shelf, and benthic fauna and its variability and production. Other chapters review and discuss fishes and squids of the region and their distribution and production; the large pelagic predators (i.e., large tunas and sharks), sea turtles, sea birds, and the whales, dolphins, and porpoises of the region. Also discussed is the production on Georges Bank as compared with other shelf ecosystems. Two final chapters in this section discuss water circulation on the Bank and its biologic implications and a simulation of some physical and biologic interactions.

Part I, however, "Physical Science," sets the stage for the book. Articles here review what is known about the Bank's geology, weather and climate, physical oceanography, and chemistry-made all the more useful and interesting owing to recent and extensive work, and the section is well illustrated with many underwater color photographs.

The U.S. decision to lease sites for oil and gas exploration off the northern New England coast brought a great increase in research funding for the area and studies by many different scientists and institutions. As an outgrowth of the concerns of the oil/fish resource controversies, many studies were begun. The WHOI set up in 1979 a Coastal Research Center for broad-based multidisciplinary studies of the marine ecosystem that includes the Georges Bank, and one of the questions for which an answer was sought was "Why is Georges Bank so productive?"

The result was this book, a most ambitious project, and it should be something of a benchmark in marine science publishing for a long time. Hardbound and indexed, the huge 593-page volume also lists the authors and reviewers and their addresses. Another publisher might have opted to break the book into four or five parts and charged $50-100 each. The MIT Press, however, chose to publish the entire treatise under one cover with a price of $225, steep for one volume, but considering the content and utility of it, not out of line. It is certainly an excellent reference for libraries, and probably not a few individuals will want their own personal copy.
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Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1988
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