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Documentary Film on History of American Fisheries Oct. 10 at UNH

By David Sims, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space
October 8, 2008


On Friday, October 10 the documentary film "American Fisheries - A Cautionary Tale" will be shown on the UNH campus. The film explores one of the greatest sea stories of all time, the dramatic tale of the 500-year-old North Atlantic cod fishery. A discussion with the film's writer/director and three UNH fisheries experts will follow the screening.

"American Fisheries - A Cautionary Tale" will be shown Friday, October 10 at 2:10 pm in Murkland Hall, Room 115 (Richards Auditorium).

Drawing on the sometimes contradictory perspectives of fishermen, ecologists, fisheries managers, and historians, this stirring film reveals an epic story that stretches from the age of sail, to what may become an age of sustainability.

The story begins in 1498 when John Cabot arrived on the coast of Newfoundland and encountered an unfathomable abundance of codfish. For more than 400 years people fished this region with little thought given to sustainability. By the 1950's, new technology in the form of sonar, advanced net design, and huge factory ships devastated North Atlantic codfish populations.

Today, the American fishing industry lies in economic ruin. Fishing regulations are a quagmire of red tape and the small-time fishermen of New England are living on the edge of poverty.

This film explores both the transformation of the living ocean and the embattled fishing industry. Bringing to light one of the most significant environmental disasters in history, it nevertheless raises hope for the future.

The film lets fishermen, ecologists, fisheries managers, and historians convey very different perspectives in their own unscripted words. But the star of the film is the cod, and its perspective is imagined and created using animation and underwater film footage. Its artistic presentation makes this film stand out, while at the same time effectively combining strong points of view into one complex story. The attention to art, science, history, and personal testimony make it virtually unique among environmental documentaries.

Shot over a three-year period in England, Iceland, Canada, and New England (including New Hampshire), the film received its world premiere at the Boston International Film Festival in June 2008. Dave Goethal, N.H. fisherman and member of the New England Fisheries Management Council, is featured in the film. Also featured are UNH professors Andy Rosenberg, director of the Ocean Process and Analysis Laboratory (OPAL) and faculty in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment; Jeff Bolster of the Department of History; and Bill Leavenworth, a research historian at OPAL.

The post-film discussion will include the three UNH professors and Bailey Pryor, the film's writer, producer, and director. Pryor has worked in the film and television industry for over 20 years. He has produced six feature films and over 50 hours of television programming.


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