When the Island had Fish is the story of a tiny island, Vinalhaven Maine, that offers a close look at the significant history of Maine fishing particularly, but also offers perspective on the impact of industrialized fishing on small fishing villages all over the United States and the world. Vinalhaven’s documented habitation by fishermen dates back over 5000 years, and still today lobstering is the primary source of employment for its 1100 year round residents; islanders currently harvest lobsters at a rate almost unrivaled nationally.
The book investigates the changing meanings of the notion of a “fishing community” and of community members changing relationships with the natural world and with international commerce. Through this broader lens, it sheds light on the way that species, including humans, are impacted by – and at moments contribute to - climate change, environmental degradation, and sustainable and unsustainable uses of natural resources.
When the Island had Fish also provides a meditation on America’s past and future. Vinalhaven’s fishing history is in every way America’s history. It’s a story of habitations by native peoples and European-American settlers, their use of natural resources, their communities and kin, and their efforts to find ways to live in a harsh environment. Anyone interested in creating a viable collective future will learn from reading about the Penobscot Bay fisheries and fishermen, and about Vinalhaven’s citizens’ expansive knowledge of craft, husbandry, self-governance and community independence, and interdependence.
Janna Malamud Smith has lectured and has published widely nationally and internationally. She is the author of four books. The first two, Private Matters. (1997) and A Potent Spell. (2003) were chosen as “Notable Books” by The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Her third, “My Father is a book.” (2006) was selected as a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Two of her essays were reprinted in Best American Essays. Her most recent book is An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make their way to Mastery (2013). She writes regularly for Cognoscenti, an opinion website for WBUR a Boston NPR station.