5/23 Is modernization really the answer to fishermen

Today we discussed the articles of Satsuki Takahashi, who brought up important issues about fisheries, and Prof. Ellers and Prof. Johnson brought up the leverage in the communication between the fishermen and scientists. The question about fishery is divided into two parts: modernization, or “scientification” of fisheries, and communication with, or delivery of the science to the fishermen.

The motive of Japan’s modernization of fisheries can be viewed as a part of the modernization, or westernization plan of the whole nation, especially in industries. As the professors observed in Japan, Japan has a strong incentive to copy western countries, and fishery is a good example, since the technology Japan developed is a manifestation of many western models and theories. And also, it believes in science and tends to regulate fisheries with scientific reason. However, as we have seen during the meeting, the population model (and its relatives), which is primarily used to predict harvest and analyze fish population and distribution, has a high level of complexity and requirement of huge sets of data and professional assessment. Nonetheless, the models are not easily understandable without some level of education. Thus bridging the leverage between the science and the fishermen becomes a big issue that we all have to face in all regions. Moreover, people have to deal with the conflicts between science and experience of fishermen as well, regarding the question of persuasiveness.

The situation gets more interesting when disasters come into play. As the professors explained, counterintuitively, the manmade disasters, such as radiation, are not necessarily harmful for the local ecosystems. Since the scale of ocean is huge, its ability to purify itself is incredible. Prof. Johnson brought an example that there actually formed a reservoir around Fukuoka where there was a diversity of species, and exactly because people stopped fishing, the fish population was able to restore. And now the concern shifts from fish population being wiped out by radiation to whether people are willing to purchase fish from the radiated area, although it has recovered.

Thinking about all the scientific and humanistic elements of the issue, it is alarming to us that if we cannot bridge the gaps between industry and fishermen, regulators and the fishery communities, and fishing communities and consumers, the difficulties we are facing will not be resolved.

Dive Right In


Hajimemashite. Julian Garrison to moushimasu. Connecticut no Westport to iu


machi kara mairimashita. Nihon no anime wo mite,nihongo ga kirei de omoshiroi kotoba dato omoita


koto ga kikkakede, nihongo no benkyou wo hajimemashita.


Welcome to 自己紹介(Jikoshoukai), or self-introduction. Japanese has a variety of different structures and forms for different social situations, and this is one we’ll be using a lot. Here, I used “Keigo,” which encompasses both honorific and humble forms, and specifically I used the humble forms in introducing myself, where I’m from, and why I’m interested in Japanese. We learned Keigo this past year in second year Japanese at Bowdoin; meanwhile, Ethan (who was abroad) and Karen (who’s in first-year Japanese) are basically getting a crash course in Keigo today and these next few days. がんばる!Good luck!


Our readings for today, “Four-fold Disaster” and “Endless Modernization: Fisheries Policy and Development in Postwar Japan,” were both authored by Satsuki Takahashi, who we’ll actually be meeting while we’re in Japan. As for lecture, Professors Amy Johnson and Olaf Ellers (in my mind, the dynamic duo of marine biology) talked to us about fisheries and population growth models, using the readings as a springboard and Maine’s cod fishery as a key example. Put simply, fisheries around the world, regardless of species, have followed the same pattern: a period of high harvest rates, followed by decline as regulators and scientists alike try to figure out sustainable quotas, then a crash and collapse of the entire fishery. Rinse and repeat. You’d think we’d learn by now? Today’s discussion also had echoes of our discussion yesterday about how historians engage with the sciences; in this case, how do fisheries regulators and fishermen engage with scientists in determining acceptable catch limits. Turns out, scientists are often distrusted when it comes to things like fisheries; it doesn’t help that some models, such as the Maximum Sustainable Yield model, usually don’t work (since they fail to account for environmental variability). People simply, and understandably, don’t like being told where, when, what, and how to fish, especially when historically these fisheries may have operated just fine without regulator or scientist intervention. But technology advances and with it our ability to catch vast quantities of fish.

I didn’t quite get the chance to bring it up today, but community-based fisheries management, mentioned in “Endless Modernization”  and a concept that came up a lot in several of my classes last semester, is also another possible strategy. It gets the fishermen on the ground involved with the research or monitoring and regulation of their own fisheries, alongside rather than at odds with scientists and regulators. If I recall correctly, Maine’s lobster fishery practices community-based management to quite a degree of success. I think it’s also interesting how this distrust of science could play into or inform my own project on aquariums and how they serve the dual purpose of engaging in conservation efforts as well as educating the public of the value of marine life and the oceans.

Edit (5/24/17): Almost forgot to include the questions for Satsuki Takahashi I came up with while reading the two readings, and also some that we came up with as a group:

  • How do consumers and fishermen alike balance the cultural/social/economic value of fish with the sigma or fear of radiation-contaminated fish?
  • What substitutes are available, or is it a matter of simply shifting to a different region for purchase/import?
  • How does contamination (or fear of it) indirectly affect consumers (public and commercial) of fish? Economically? Mentally? Socially?
  • Are there any regional specialties (of seafood) in radiation-contaminated regions and, if so, what are perceptions (consumer, fisher, commercial) of those? Are they valued enough as regional specialties to warrant the (perceived) risk?
  • How do biology and ecology fit into this radiation-contamination story? That is, what biological and ecological forces are also at work?
  • To what extent is there (fishermen) fear or wariness of regulation in Japan?
  • What fisheries models are being used in Japan and how does radiation alter these models?
  • If applicable, how do scientists or policymakers in Japan incentivize adoption of these models by fishermen? Is it enough to overcome any distrust?


As an aside, and before I forget, I was also interviewed by Tom Porter from Communications about my project. Apparently, Communications wants to do a piece on our trip before and during/after we leave for Japan. Pretty exciting! Hopefully I spoke loud enough…

Reconciling the humanities and the sciences

Today marks the start of a major step in my Bowdoin education: this summer I will live and study in Japan. I am excited and grateful to start my studies in Japan with my classmates in the Japanese program as we explore our research projects on Japan and the environment.

In discussion today, we looked at two foundational articles in environmental history with the goal of getting everyone on equal footing with environmental history terminology and methodology as well as allowing each of us to see how the academic discipline of our individual projects is informed by environmental history, or vice versa. My research topic — the development of Sapporo as a urban space in colonial Hokkaido — is deeply rooted in the discipline of history so it was useful for me to step outside my history bubble, so to speak, and hear what my peers had to say about how reading an historian’s point of view can inform research in the natural sciences. In “History and Biology in the Anthropocene: Problems of Scale, Problems of Value,” historian Julia Adeney Thomas encourages scientists to value the work of historians in order to give social, cultural, and political context and relevance to the findings of scientists. I think that this idea will be a critical point of discussion for us as we not only pursue our individual projects, but also as we attempt to use each other’s work to inform our own projects, whether they are rooted in the sciences or humanities.

Today’s reading also lead us to discussing how humans categorize and interact with nature. Richard White’s “The Problem with Purity” puts nature on a spectrum and somewhere along that spectrum lies purity, where humans fence of nature and conceive it as orderly. Somewhere else on this spectrum is hybridity, where human and natural factors are inextricably mixed to the point that one cannot distinguish between the human and the natural. This idea sets the ground for me to look towards my own project and explore how this spectrum acts in an urban, colonial setting — was Hokkaido a hybrid landscape before the colonial incursion of the young Meiji state? Did Sapporo as an urban space push out nature? I look forward to further discussions this week as we delve into reading about the various environmental issues in Japan, while keeping today’s foundational discussion in mind.

Prepared with only the purest that nature can offer?

A plastic Godzilla glares at us from across the table, arms raised in defiance, painted teeth bared. Professor Matt Klingle, a History and Environmental Studies “double major” at Bowdoin College, sits behind the scale toy replica of the famous monster, arms crossed, teeth equally bared in a expectant, knowing grin.

“Is Godzilla natural?” Professor Klingle asks again. We all consider the question and the deeper implications of the question. What is natural? What is nature? Is nature pure?


After a brief crash course in environmental history, these were the core questions that drove our kickoff discussion, alongside two articles: “History and Biology in the Anthropocene: Problems of Scale, Problems of Value” by Julia Adeney Thomas and “The Problem with Purity” by Richard White. Nature is a part of all human societies, but the ways in which we perceive nature vary greatly. Nature has long been thought of as this “pure” entity, something separate from humans, something to be kept pristine and categorically different with discrete boundaries. Now, though, those lines are less clear. As White argues, “purity” is difficult, especially when it comes to culture versus nature, because they are “mingled, confused, and increasingly impossible to separate.” Thomas echoes these sentiments, pointing to the different scales at which biologists operate and how those complicate the supposed “purity” of nature; that is, if humans are composed of an incredibly diverse microbiome (i.e. microbiologists’ scale) that is constantly perfused and penetrated by various chemicals, benign and toxic (i.e. biochemists’ scale), how can we call humans and nature separate at all?

Are we getting hung up on all these abstract definitions of “nature” and “purity” and “scale” and “value”? I don’t think so. These questions inform other questions about environmental issues, how we define the Anthropocene (i.e. humans becoming a major driving planetary force on numerous scales, a position formerly reserved only for geologic processes), and even issues of race and gender.  Here, purity plays a big role; reducing race and gender to biology as a justification is no more than confusing the categories of “culture” and “nature.” And, all of these definitions and culturally-loaded interpretations of these terms we discussed in English. Now try translating that to Japanese or any other language.


I’m excited for all the other discussions we’ll be having on a variety of environmental topics and Japan. I’m especially interested in seeing how everyone’s individual projects fit into the larger picture and also the details of what we each discover in this journey. Today’s discussion definitely set a strong framework to work with and have in our minds, moving forward. So to you, dear readers, I pose the same question Professor Klingle and Richard White and Julia Adeney Thomas posed to us:

What is nature?

“Nature is Good to Think With”

While today’s readings:
– The Problem with Purity by Richard White
-History and Biology in the Anthropocene by Julia A. Thomas
were curled up in a tight knot of ideas the night before, this morning they unraveled as the discussion took place.
Professor Matt Klingle led the discussion by presenting us with an action figure of Godzilla, and prompted the question: “Is this Nature?”
There isn’t a right or wrong answer because it all depends on which approach you decide to take. While Godzilla’s value or representing is that of an angered force of nature-we could argue its natural. But since its an action figure, an item one would not typically find naturally in nature-we can argue its not. But since the materials from which it is made are technically supplied by the earth-its natural. Which brings us to the problem of PURITY-There is no such thing; there is always going to be an exception. Nature and culture are deeply entangled and it is almost impossible to separate. The concept of nature or the natural is usually invoked in order to try to eliminate a bias or to eliminate responsibility  by stating “it is natural, and it JUST is.” Meaning, we tend to see nature as separate from us, humans. The discussion encouraged us to think not as nature vs humans, but as a hybrid world in which we influence each other through our agency, structure, and power.

Furthermore, we discussed the richness of an interdisciplinary approach between the Humanities and Sciences. As an Asian Studies major and pre-med student, this reading and discussion were encouraging to not only my project surrounding illness in Japanese culture, but to the rest of my Bowdoin Career. Overall, Today’s discussion was extremely engaging and thought provoking–Professor Klingle asked questions that seriously got our mind-wheels spinning and the chosen readings encouraged us to be open and critical about our findings and the pathways that lead to them.