The Closing of the Frontier: A History of the Marine Fisheries of Southeast Asia, c.1850-2000

The Closing of the Frontier: A History of the Marine Fisheries of Southeast Asia, c.1850-2000
John G Butcher, author
Date of publication:  2004
Publisher:  ISEAS / KITLV
Number of pages:  443
Code:  BM263


"Although the book contributes specifically to economic history, it will be a very useful work for consultation by scholars in many disciplines including history, economics, sociology, political science, anthropology, marine biology, agricultural and marine fisheries studies" (Aseasuk News).

"Readers can learn how the rich Southeast Asian fisheries region of the mid-1800s came to be over-exploited by the end of the 1900s, so that the fishing grounds in most parts of the region had to be closed by the beginning of the 21st century. For Indonesians, the book partly remedies a long-term lack of good literature on the development of their country's fishing industry. It covers, in general terms, the dynamic interactions between foreign capital, local business players and government regulators that characterised large-scale fisheries in Indonesia from 1967 to 2000" (Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies).

"The detailed account of more than 150 years of transformation in the marine fisheries sector makes it utterly clear that these times of expansion are over. There are no new fishing grounds to be 'discovered'; no commercial valuable marine organism remains untouched. The most important lesson the story Butcher has to offer -- is the need for a fundamental shift in the perception of marine capture fisheries and their future: after more than 150 years of growth, development and intensification, of continuously pushing the frontier further, the new focus and frontier lies in 'finding a way to exploit the seas in a manner that preserves habitats and species while providing the people of the region with an essential source of protein decade after decade'. A careful reading can provide the interested reader with some valuable insights into the complex workings of marine capture fisheries, which may help in designing new approaches to which government policies, technological advances and even private investment strategies may be tuned, in such a way that they will be able to conquer this last remaining frontier: sustainable fishing" (Fish for the People).

About the publication

This book is the first on the history of the marine fisheries of Southeast Asia. It takes as its central theme the movement of fisheries into new fishing grounds, particularly the diverse ecosystems that make up the seas of Southeast Asia. This process accelerated between the 1950s and 1970s in what the author calls the great fish race. Catches soared as the population of the region grew, demand from Japan and North America for shrimps and tuna increased, and fishers adopted more efficient ways of locating, catching, and preserving fish. But the great fish race soon brought about the severe depletion of one fish population after another, while pollution and the destruction of mangroves and coral reefs degraded fish habitats. Today the relentless movement into new fishing grounds has come to an end, for there are no new fishing grounds to exploit. The frontier of fisheries has closed. The challenge now is to exploit the seas in ways that preserve the diversity of marine life while providing the people of the region with a source of food long into the future.

Co-publication: ISEAS / KITLV

Institute of Southeast Asian Studies / KITLV Press


  • The Closing of the Frontier: A History of the Marine Fisheries of Southeast Asia: c.1850-2000
    [Whole Publication, ISBN: 9789812305404]
  • Preliminary pages
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The Fisheries of Southeast Asia in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century
  • 3. State, Economy, and Fisheries to the 1930s
  • 4. Catching More with the Same Technology, 1870s to 1930s
  • 5. Technological Change and the Extension of the Frontier of Fisheries, 1890s to 1930s
  • 6. The Great Fish Race
  • 7. The Closing of the Frontier
  • Notes to all the chapters
  • Appendices
  • Glossary
  • Notes and Sources for Maps and Figures
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • The Author

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