Unsettled Seas: Towards a History of Marine Animal Populations in the Central Indo-Pacific

  • Joseph Christensen
Part of the MARE Publication Series book series (MARE, volume 12)


A central theme of this book concerns the importance of historical perspectives for understanding the challenges that confront marine capture fisheries in the twenty-first century. This chapter explores this theme in relation to the Central Indo-Pacific, a body of water that lies at the geographic and geopolitical heart of the different case studies brought together in this volume. The Central Indo-Pacific is one of the world’s principal marine biogeographic realms. It is made up of the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans, and the seas linking the two—the South China Sea, the seas and straits of Southeast Asia, the Coral Sea, the waters separating Australia from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, and Australia’s northern continental shelf. Here, I cover a period similar to the timeframe of the book’s other chapters, which extends from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. This was a period of profound transformation in the marine fisheries of the Central Indo-Pacific, brought about by the intensification of established fisheries and the advent of new industrial fishing practices. My aims are two-fold: to discuss some of the challenges that confront marine environmental historians working in this region; and to describe the major patterns to the transformation of fishing during the period under review, which propelled the Central Indo-Pacific to the centre of the global expansion of marine capture fisheries.


Asia fisheries history Oceania fisheries history Indo-Pacific fishing history HMAP Asia Marine environmental history 



I would like to thank John Butcher for sharing the notes of his presentations at the HMAP Asia I (2009) and II (2010) workshops, and for commenting on an earlier version of this this paper. I also thank Robb Robinson for his comments on an earlier draft. All errors and omissions are the responsibility of the author.


  1. Agnew DJ, Pearce J, Pramod G, Peatman T, Watson R, Beddington JR, Pitcher TJ (2009) Estimating the worldwide extent of illegal fishing. PLoS ONE 4(2):e4570. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004570CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander A (1902) Notes on the boats, apparatus, and fishing methods employed by the natives of the south sea islands, and results of fishing trials by the Albatross. Report of the Commissioner, Part XXVII, USA Commission of Fish and Fisheries, Washington, pp 741–829Google Scholar
  3. Allen GR (2007) Conservation hotspots of biodiversity and endemism for Indo-Pacific coral reef fishes. Aquat Conserv Mar Freshw Ecosyst 18(5):541–556CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Allsopp WHL (1977) Problems and perspectives in tropical fisheries. In: Winslow JH (ed) The Melanesian environment. Australian National University Press, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  5. Anderson SC, Flemming JM, Watson R, Lotze HK (2011) Serial exploitation of global sea cucumber fisheries. Fish Fish 12:317–339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Anticamara JA, Watson R, Gelchu A, D. Pauly (2011) Global fishing effort (1950–2010): Trends, gaps, and implications. Fish Res 107 (1–3): 131–136.
  7. Bathal B (2005) Historical reconstruction of Indian marine fisheries catches, 1950–2002, as a basis for testing the ‘Marine Trophic Index’. Fisheries Centre Research Reports 13(5). The Fisheries Centre, University of British ColumbiaGoogle Scholar
  8. Bathal B, Pauly D (2008) ‘Fishing down marine food webs’ and spatial expansion of coastal fisheries in India, 1950–2008. Fish Res 91:26–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bavinck M (2001) Marine resource management: conflict and regulation in the fisheries of the Coromandel Coast. Sage Publications, New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  10. Boomgaard P (2005) Resources and people of the sea in and around the Indonesian archipelago, 900–1900. In: Boomgaard P, Henley D, Osseweijer M (eds) Muddied waters: historical and contemporary perspectives on the management of forests and fisheries in island Southeast Asia. KITLV Press, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  11. Butcher JG (2002) Getting into trouble: the diaspora of Thai trawlers, 1965–2002. Int J Marit Hist 14:85–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Butcher JG (2004) The closing of the frontier: a history of the marine fisheries of Southeast Asia, c.1850–2000. ISEAS Publications, SingaporeGoogle Scholar
  13. Butcher JG (2005) The marine animals of Southeast Asia: towards a demographic history, 1850–2000. In: Boomgaard P, Henley D, Osseweijer M (eds) Muddied waters: historical and contemporary perspectives on the management of forests and fisheries in island Southeast Asia. KITLV Press, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  14. Campbell BC, Wilson BVE (1993) The politics of exclusion: Indonesian fishing in the Australian fishing zone. Indian Ocean Centre for Peace Studies, PerthGoogle Scholar
  15. Christensen V (1998) Fishery-induced changes in a marine ecosystem: insight from models of the Gulf of Thailand. J Fish Biol 53(Suppl A):128–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cowen RK, Gawarkiewicz G, Pineda J, Thorrold SR, Werner FE (2007) Population connectivity in marine systems: an overview. Oceanography 20(3):14–21 Google Scholar
  17. Cushing DH (1988) The provident sea. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  18. Day F (1873) Report on the sea fish and fisheries of India and Burma. Superintendent of Government Printing, CalcuttaCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Devaraj M, Vivekanandan E (1999) Marine capture fisheries of India: challenges and opportunities. Curr Sci 76(3):314–332Google Scholar
  20. Firth R (1966) Malay fishermen: their peasant economy. Routledge & Kegan Paul, LondonGoogle Scholar
  21. Gillet R (2007) A short history of industrial fishing in the Pacific Islands. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, BangkokGoogle Scholar
  22. Harrison AJ (1997) Savant of the Australian Seas: William Saville-Kent (1845–1908) and Australian fisheries. Tasmanian Historical Research Association, HobartGoogle Scholar
  23. Haysom N (2001) Trawlers, trollers and trepangers: the story of the Queensland commercial fishing industry pre-1988. Department of Primary Industries, Queensland Government, BrisbaneGoogle Scholar
  24. Holm P (2003) History of marine animal populations: a global research program of the census of marine life. Oceanol Acta 25:201–211Google Scholar
  25. Holm P (2013) World War II and the ‘Great Acceleration’of North Atlantic Fisheries. Global Environ 10:66–91Google Scholar
  26. Holm P, Starkey D, Smith T (2001) Introduction. In: Holm P, Smith T, Starkey D (eds) The exploited seas: new directions for marine environmental history. Research in Maritime History 21. International Maritime Economic History Association, St. John’s, NewfoundlandGoogle Scholar
  27. Holm P, Marboe AH, Poulsen B, Mackenzie BR (2010) Marine animal populations: a new look back in time. In: McIntyre AD (ed) Life in the world’s oceans: diversity, distribution and abundance. Wiley Blackwell, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  28. Hornell J (2004) [1914] Marine fisheries. In: Playne S (ed) Southern India: its history, people, commerce and industrial resources. Asian Educational Services, New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  29. Jackson JBC, Kirby MX, Berger WH, Bjorndal KA, Botsford LW, Bourque BJ, Bradbury RH, Cooke R, Erlandson J, Estes JA, Hughes TP, Kidwell S, Lange CB, Lenihan HS, Pandolfi JM, Peterson CH, Steneck RS, Tegner MJ, Warner RR (2001) Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293(5530):629–637CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Longhurst A (2007) Ecological geography of the sea. Elsevier, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  31. McElroy JK (1991) The Java Sea purse seine fishery: a modern-day ‘tragedy of the commons’. Mar Policy 15:255–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mora C, Myers RA, Coll M, Libralato S, Pitcher TJ et al (2009) Management effectiveness of the world’s marine fisheries. PLoS Biol 7(6):e1000131. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Morgan G, Staples D (2006) The History of Industrial Marine Fisheries in Southeast Asia, Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, BangkokGoogle Scholar
  34. Myers R, Worm B (2003) Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities. Nature 423:280–283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. O’Meara D, Harper S, Perera N, Zeller D (2011) Reconstruction of Sri Lanka’s fisheries catches: 1950–2008. In: Harper S, Zeller D (eds) Fisheries catches reconstruction. Islands, Part II. Fish Cent Res Rep 19(4):85–96Google Scholar
  36. Paulin C (2011) The Maori fish hook: traditional materials, innovative design. Mem Connect 1(1):475–486Google Scholar
  37. Pearson M (2003) The Indian Ocean. Routledge, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Reeves P, Broeze F, McPherson K (1988) The maritime peoples of the Indian Ocean region since 1800. Mar Mirror 74(3):241–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Reeves P, Pope A, McGuire J, Pokrant B (1996) Mapping India’s marine resources: colonial state experiments, c.1908-1930. South Asia 19(1):13–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Roberts C (2007) The unnatural history of the sea. Island Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  41. Roberts C (2012) Ocean of life: how our seas are changing. Penguin Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  42. Roughley TC (1966) Fish and fisheries of Australia. Angus and Robertson, SydneyGoogle Scholar
  43. Rumley D (2009) A policy framework for fisheries conflicts in the Indian Ocean. In: Rumley D, Chaturvedi S, Sakhuja V (eds) Fisheries exploitation in the Indian Ocean: threats and opportunities. ISEAS Publications, SingaporeGoogle Scholar
  44. Sainsbury KJ, Campbell RA, Whitelaw AW (1992) Effects of trawling on the marine habitat on the north west shelf of Australia and implications for sustainable management. In: Hancock DA (ed) Sustainable fisheries through sustaining fish habitat. Department of Primary Industries and Energy, Bureau of Resource Sciences, Australian Government Publishing Service, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  45. Saville-Kent W (1896) Fish and fisheries of Western Australia. Western Australian Yearbook, 1894–1895. Government Printer, PerthGoogle Scholar
  46. Schwerdtner Mánez K (2010) Java’s forgotten pearls: history and disappearance of pearl-fishing in the Segara Anakan lagoon, South Java, Indonesia. J Hist Geogr 36:367–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Schwerdtner Mánez K, Ferse SCA (2010) The History of Makassan Trepang fishing and trade. PloS ONE 5(6):e11346. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Spalding MD, Fox HE, Allen GR, Davidson N, Ferda ZA, Finlayson M, Halpern BS, Martin KD, Mcmanus E, Molnar J, Recchia CA, Robertson J (2007) Marine ecoregions of the world: a bioregionalization of coastal and shelf areas. Bioscience 57(7):573–583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Swartz W, Sala E, Tracey S, Watson R, Pauly D (2010) The spatial expansion and ecological footprint of fisheries (1950 to present). PLoS ONE 5(12):e15143. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0015143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Wallace AR (1869) The Malay Archipelago. McMillan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  51. Watson RA, Cheung WWL, Anticamara JA, Sumaila RU, Zeller D, Pauly D (2012) Global marine yield halved as fishing intensity redoubles. Fish Fish 14:493–503. doi:10.1111/j.1467-2979.2012.00483.xCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Watson RA, Pauly D (2013) The changing face of global fisheries – The 1950s vs. the 2000s. Mari Policy 42:1–4. Google Scholar
  53. Williams M (2007) Enmeshed: Australia and Southeast Asia’s fisheries. Lowy Institute for Public Policy, Double BayGoogle Scholar
  54. Williams M, Stewart P (1993) Australia’s fisheries. In: Kailola PJ (ed) Australian fisheries resources. Bureau of Resource Sciences, Department of Primary Industries and Energy, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  55. Worm B, Hilborn R, Baum JK, Branch TA, Collie JS, Costello C, Fogarty MJ, Fulton EA, Hutchings JA, Jennings S, Jensen OP, Lotze HK, Mace PM, McClanahan TR, Minto C, Pa-lumbi SR, Parma AM, Ricard D, Rosenberg AA, Watson R, Zeller D (2009) Rebuilding global fisheries. Science 325(5940):578–585Google Scholar
  56. Worm B, Branch TA (2012) The Future of fish. Trends Ecol Evol. 27(11):594–599Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Asia Research CentreMurdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia

Personalised recommendations