Leaping waterfalls, struggling through rocky shallows, only the strongest salmon survive to spawn a new generation. These remarkable fish seem to be pure nature, unfathomable, all instinct. But are they? For more than a century biologists have tried to unlock the mystery of salmon we know. For sociologist Rik Scarce, salmon represent an opportunity to probe the relationship of science, society, and nature.
About Pacific salmon -- a game fish and food source that is protected and manages for economic and environmental abundance -- Scarce writes, "What other living thing receives such extensive attention from science and society, is used in so many ways, yet retains so much of what we would like to think is its 'wild' character?" He shows how political, bureaucratic, and economic forces have directed salmon science for their own purposes and how control remains a central feature in salmon biology.
Identifying a countertrend rooted in environmental activism, Scarce also argues that an ecocentric perspective is gaining ground even as pressures mount simultaneously to save endangered salmon populations and to bring every last salmon to market. Thus, while external forces control much of the biologists' work, a movement is underway to free biology from political and economic pressures. In rich, ethnographic detail, Scarce develops this portrait of a science struggling with nature and itself. The old-line "fisheries biologists" tell how they work under immense pressure to unravel the unknowns of salmon existence to fulfill objectives of politically-motivated funding agencies. In contrast, the new breed of "conservation biology" researchers struggles to maintain the genetic diversity of salmon populations while minimizing the ways humans determine the fate of the salmon.
Fishy Business provides new ways for regarding about human interactions with other species, from appealing ones like wolves, whales, and redwood tress to less popular ones like snail darters and kangaroo rats. Society struggles to decide what parts of nature matter and why. Ultimately, Scarce argues, nature is a social product: what shall we make of it?