World Without Fish

World Without Fish

by Mark Kurlansky


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"Can you imagine a world without fish? It's not as crazy as it sounds. But if we keep doing things the way we've been doing things, fish could become extinct within fifty years. So let's change the way we do things!"

World Without Fish is the uniquely illustrated narrative nonfiction account—for kids—of what is happening to the world’s oceans and what they can do about it. Written by Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod, Salt, The Big Oyster, and many other books, World Without Fish has been praised as “urgent” (Publishers Weekly) and “a wonderfully fast-paced and engaging primer on the key questions surrounding fish and the sea” (Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish). It has also been included in the New York State Expeditionary Learning English Language Arts Curriculum.

Written by a master storyteller, World Without Fish connects all the dots—biology, economics, evolution, politics, climate, history, culture, food, and nutrition—in a way that kids can really understand. It describes how the fish we most commonly eat, including tuna, salmon, cod, swordfish—even anchovies— could disappear within fifty years, and the domino effect it would have: the oceans teeming with jellyfish and turning pinkish orange from algal blooms, the seabirds disappearing, then reptiles, then mammals. It describes the back-and-forth dynamic of fishermen, who are the original environmentalists, and scientists, who not that long ago considered fish an endless resource. It explains why fish farming is not the answer—and why sustainable fishing is, and how to help return the oceans to their natural ecological balance.

Interwoven with the book is a twelve-page graphic novel. Each beautifully illustrated chapter opener links to the next to form a larger fictional story that perfectly complements the text.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780606398039
Publisher: Turtleback Books
Publication date: 12/02/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 183
Product dimensions: 7.06(w) x 9.06(h) x 0.44(d)

About the Author

Mark Kurlansky is a former commercial fisherman and New York Times bestselling author of Cod, Salt, The Big Oyster, and other books. He’s won numerous awards, including the James A. Beard Award, ALA Notable Book Award, and New York Public Library Best Books of the Year Award. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York City and Gloucester, Massachusetts. His website is

Frank Stockton is an artist and illustrator whose work has appeared in Esquire, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.


New York, NY

Date of Birth:

December 7, 1948

Place of Birth:

Hartford, CT


Butler University, B.A. in Theater, 1970

Read an Excerpt

Being A Brief Outline Of The Problem
A large stock of individuals of the same species, relative to the number of its enemies, is absolutely necessary for its preservation. —Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species
Most stories about the destruction of the planet involve a villain with an evil plot. But this is the story of how the earth could be destroyed by well-meaning people who fail to solve a problem simply because their calculations are wrong. Most of the fish we commonly eat, most of the fish we know, could be gone in the next fifty years.
This includes salmon, tuna, cod, swordfish, and anchovies. If this happens, many other fish that depend on these fish will also be in trouble. So will seabirds that eat fish, such as seagulls and cormorants. So will mammals that eat fish, such as whales, porpoises, and seals. And insects that depend on seabirds, such as beetles and lizards. And mammals that depend on beetles and lizards. Slowly—or maybe not so slowly—in less time than the several billion years it took to create it—life on planet Earth could completely unravel.
People who are in school today are lucky to have been born at a special moment in history. The Industrial Revolution, beginning in the mid-eighteenth century and continuing for the next 120 years shifted production from handcrafts to machine-made factory goods and in so doing completely changed the relationship of people to nature, the relationship of people to each other, politics, art, and architecture—the look and thought of the world. In the next fifty years, much of your working life, there will be as much change in less than half the time. The future of the world, perhaps even the survival of the planet, will depend on how well these changes are handled. And so you have more opportunities and more responsibilities than any other generation in history.
One of the great thinkers of the Industrial Revolution was an Englishman named Charles Darwin. In 1859, he had published one of the most important books ever written: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, more commonly known by its shortened title: On the Origin of Species.
In his book, Darwin explained the order of nature as a system in which all the many various plant and animal species struggle for survival. He did not see nature as particularly nice or kind, but as a cruel system in which species attempted to kill and dominate other species in order to secure the survival of their own kind. He wrote, “We do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us, mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life.”
Plants and animals are organized into groups with seven major levels or categories: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus (plural: genera), species.
A codfish and a human belong to the same kingdom, which is animals. They also belong to the same phylum, which is vertebrates (animals with spines). But after that, they break off into completely different classes— cod are fish and humans are mammals. More specifically, humans are vertebrates of the class known as mammals in the order known as primates, which we share with monkeys and lemurs. We belong to the family Hominidae, which we share with apes and chimpanzees. Within that family, we are of the genus Homo, which are Hominidae that walk standing up on two feet. (Several other Homo genera have all died off and we are the only surviving species of this family: Homo sapiens.) Cod, on the other hand, are fish—specifically fish with jaws—that belong to a family called Gadidae. This fish family is fairly evolved, has elaborate fins, and lives in the bottom part of the ocean. They hunt voraciously the species living directly over and beneath them, and have white flesh greatly favored by Homo sapiens.
Darwin wrote of how all species struggle for the survival of their own group. So it is not surprising that we humans have the greatest affection for organisms that are biologically close to us. Killing our own species is the worst thing we can do. Killing close relatives to our species, like monkeys, though it occurs, is revolting to most of us. We tend to care more about our own class—mammals, such as whales and seals and polar bears—than we do about fish. Is that because they are in a different class? Is that why people tend to have less sympathy for animals that are not in our phylum, like insects? Ultimately, a vegetarian is a human who rejects killing living things from his own kingdom—animals—but accepts killing from the other kingdom—plants.

Table of Contents

Being A Brief Outline Of The Problem....Ix
Chapter One
Being A Short Exposition About What Could Happen And How It Would Happen....1
Chapter Two
Being The True Story Of How Humans First Began To Fish And How Fishing Became An Industry....21
Chapter Three
Being The Sad, Cautionary Tale Of The Orange Roughy....39
Chapter Four
Being The Myth Of Nature’s Bounty And How Scientists Got It Wrong For Many Years....51
Chapter Five
Being A Concise History Of The Politics Of Fish....63
Chapter Six
Being An Examination Of Why We Can’t Simply Stop Fishing....77
Chapter Seven
Being A Detailed Look At Four Possible Solutions and Why They Alone Won’t Work....87
Chapter Eight
The Best Solution To Overfishing: Sustainable Fishing....107
Chapter Nine
How Pollution is Killing Fish, Too....117
Chapter Ten
How Global Warming is Also Killing Fish....135
Chapter Eleven
Time To Wake Up And Smell The Fish....143

Customer Reviews

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World Without Fish 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
aconant05 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book is about the need for people to step up and help prevent the depletion of our oceans and the real possibility of fish becoming extinct within fifty years. It is very visually appealing, as it has various fonts to emphasize points and a comic before each chapter. There are also graphics and side notes throughout the book. I think youth would be interested in this topic and what they can do to support sustainable fishing. I would probably recommend it for those in late elementary through high school, but even adults could find interest in this book.
Joles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is geared towards children (ages 9 and up) but it equally moving for adults. It examines what will very likely happen if we continue overfishing and polluting the environment. The writing is engaging and they even use comic strips to keep it light.Not only does this book educate and keep interest but it gives a prescription of what we can do to turn things around and it really lets kids know that the ball is in their court and that they will be the ones that make the most difference.
CATSpawprints on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Often it happens that you open a box of books and take note that there are some that you may want to read. But rarely will you come across a book that stops you in your tracks, and rises to the top of that book pile as an urgent, can¿t-wait-to-read. This is one of those rare gems. Mark Kurlansky, well known for his thoroughly researched subjects Cod (9780802713261), Salt (97808027137350), and 1968 (9780345455826), has written a ¿Silent Spring for the next generation¿ with this fascinating work of nonfiction (DDS 551). His first original work intended for children and teens, introduces readers to the workings of the ocean ecosystem. In his compelling style Kurlansky explains the adaptation of various ocean species over millions of years, fishing and overfishing, pollution and other elements which negatively affect life in the sea. How to counter the possibility of a World Without Fish is ultimately the climax of this story. Readers are provided with possible solutions, multiple pages of resources, and ¿Five things you can do to save the Oceans and the Fish.¿ Luckily this book with be available before Earth Day. It is a timely account of the world¿s main ecosystem, and will appeal to all tweens, teens, and parents concerned with their environment. This book is highly recommended for ALL libraries, especially those in states with a coastline. -- Jill Faherty, Director of CATS, Baker & Taylor.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is intended for ages 9 and above, but I really found it quite good for my age as well, which is a bit more than 9. Kurlansky¿s purpose is to educate readers on what is happening with the world¿s fish, its oceans, and the environment in general. Aided by the appealing illustrations of Frank Stockton, he does a wonderful job.Using quotes from Darwin throughout the book, Kurlansky explains what has been going on with fishing in the modern age, and how the repercussions can affect the entire planet. It¿s an important argument because so many people are under the impression that since the oceans are so vast, relatively minor insults here and there won¿t damage the whole. Kurlansky tells you how and why this argument is unfortunately incorrect.He begins by noting that "Most of the fish we commonly eat, most of the fish we know, could be gone in the next fifty years.¿ Why? Kurlansky gives a number of reasons. Some of the more compelling ones are:In spite of the literally millions of eggs laid by fish, each birth results in only between one and six surviving babies.The survival struggle of a species depends on maintaining a large population.Between 100 and 120 million tons of sea life are killed by fishing every year. Life in the ocean can¿t reproduce fast enough every year to make up for the loss.Fish farms are not, as currently run, the best answer. Most farmed fish need to be fed wild fish. In the case of salmon, it has been estimated that four pounds of wild fish are fed to grown one pound of farmed fish!The ocean is now full of garbage and pollutants. In fact, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to vary from an eighth of the size of the United States to twice its size!If the seas are warming and ice is melting from global warming, this means the melted ice, which is freshwater, will make the seas less salty. Most fish need very specific degrees of salinity to survive and to reproduce.Excessive carbon, also going into the oceans, also slows the growth rate of fish and affects egg production.Without enough sea life to eat plankton, the sea can become clogged with it, leaving huge poisonous areas where the plankton rots and also blocks oxygen from any underwater survivors.Birds that rely on fish could die out, as could higher animals that rely on birds, and so on, up the evolutionary chain.Kurlansky is not satisfied with just sending out an alarm. He also offers a number of ideas for people ¿ especially young people ¿ to become involved and help save the oceans. He also lists websites that will provide updated information on what fish are safe to eat, and which fish are culled in a ¿sustainable¿ way.Discussion: Kurlansky himself is a former commercial fisherman who has gone on to win a number of awards for his writing. I think his background adds an important element to the book, because he does not simply attack commercial fishing as many environmentally-oriented books do, but takes a more balanced approach. The illustrations and graphic variations in the font not only provide emphasis but keep the reader interested and actively involved in interpreting the text.Evaluation: A wonderful book for kids and adult alike. Highly recommended, unless you really, really like to eat swordfish or grouper¿.
GAZJI More than 1 year ago
All children as well as adults should read this excellent book. We are rapidly depleting the fish in our oceans, and we must do something about it NOW! The first step is to find out just how this is happening, and this book explains just what is going on. The format is appealing to children, but informative for adults. A must read for everyone.