Fishing for analogues

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thoreau
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Fishing for analogues

Post by thoreau » 13 May 2019, 14:29

I've seen a number of commentators note the differences between societies built on growing crops and societies built on herding: Living off of crops pretty much means you're settled in one place, while herders can be more nomadic (assuming their herds are grazing the land rather than being raised on grain). Stealing livestock is easier than stealing crops, and this leads to different attitudes towards security, governance, outsiders, etc.

Now, obviously, all of these are simplifications, and you can find plenty of exceptions to any generalization one might draw from these ideas, but it doesn't seem to be a completely useless analytical framework.

What I'm wondering is where fishing societies fit into this taxonomy. They don't own land but they will want to defend territory and fight off pirates. They are more mobile than farmers but need safe ports where they can repair their boats and equipment, sell their catch, etc.

Anybody have any thoughts on this? Any references? Do fishing societies have common tendencies that can reliably place them somewhere on this farmer/herder spectrum? Or are they all over the map? Or are they distinct in ways that make this classification useless?
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Re: Fishing for analogues

Post by Jasper » 13 May 2019, 14:50

It would seem to me, on first speculation, that fishing societies would be similar to hunter/gatherer societies, since you're essentially hunting fish in the sea. From there it would seem like you'd have to define parameters for the hunting & fishing frameworks regarding if you're talking about nomad types or people who have settled somewhere and then hunt/fish local grounds all year.
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Re: Fishing for analogues

Post by lunchstealer » 13 May 2019, 14:57

thoreau wrote:
13 May 2019, 14:29
I've seen a number of commentators note the differences between societies built on growing crops and societies built on herding: Living off of crops pretty much means you're settled in one place, while herders can be more nomadic (assuming their herds are grazing the land rather than being raised on grain). Stealing livestock is easier than stealing crops, and this leads to different attitudes towards security, governance, outsiders, etc.

Now, obviously, all of these are simplifications, and you can find plenty of exceptions to any generalization one might draw from these ideas, but it doesn't seem to be a completely useless analytical framework.

What I'm wondering is where fishing societies fit into this taxonomy. They don't own land but they will want to defend territory and fight off pirates. They are more mobile than farmers but need safe ports where they can repair their boats and equipment, sell their catch, etc.

Anybody have any thoughts on this? Any references? Do fishing societies have common tendencies that can reliably place them somewhere on this farmer/herder spectrum? Or are they all over the map? Or are they distinct in ways that make this classification useless?
I assume this is pre-technological/industrial? Stone/Bronze/Iron age?

I'm going to assume pre-industrial but anywhere from stone through iron ages.

North American fishing based societies were pretty nomadic, but a lot of that was the Inuit and Eskimo (not considered a slur among Alaskan native peoples only some of whom are Inuit peoples) but I think it was also true of the PNW tribes who had a lot of salmon fishing and the like. I don't know enough about fishing among coastal US tribes, but the peoples of the barrier islands of the Carolinas and Georgia tended to be pretty settled, at least as evidenced by the shell-rings, which were circular mounds around villages that were composed mostly of discarded oyster and other food-molusk shells. I think you have to be pretty settled to build a six foot tall ring of shells a couple hundred feet or more in diameter.

The Polynesian people were also somewhat nomadic, but didn't do a whole lot of formal trade-at-a-market type stuff to my knowledge, but it's VERY limited knowledge.

Among Europeans, you didn't tend to have entire ethnic groups centered around fishing, but communities within a larger agrarian society. I don't know about Asian or African groups centered on fishing, nor South American new world peoples.
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Re: Fishing for analogues

Post by thoreau » 13 May 2019, 15:16

I'm thinking of coastal fishing villages that interact with larger societies. More integrated with urban civilizations than Polynesia was, but not necessarily to the extent of the modern mass-scale fishing supply chain.

My context for this is the Middle East, which to this day has a lot of cultural influence from herders. They've had cities and farms since forever, but they've also had herders since forever, and that influence shows in some tribal conflicts.

So I'm wondering whether coastal fishing villages, with people who might sell to larger urban areas (much like herders often trade with more settled people) have cultures and attitudes towards governance, violence, etc. more like herders or more like farmers. They go out and hunt on the seas and have to avoid pirates, but they also need reliable ports where they can maintain their equipment and trade with craftsmen.

Or have coastal areas mostly not had fishing cultures per se, but rather fishing specialists living in the midst of a larger coastal city economy?
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Re: Fishing for analogues

Post by Kolohe » 13 May 2019, 15:51

I think you're getting close with the latter.

You probably had numerous little encampments all over the world in the bronze and iron ages, but the ones that took root and had a surplus became martime trading empires like the Phonecians, Carthaginians, and Vikings (for an incomplete list). They all had modest (land based) agricultural steads, but they got empire thru their sea lane logistic network. Notably, they mostly got displaced by more 'traditional' land based agricultural empires who eventually learned hownl to sail.
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Re: Fishing for analogues

Post by Kolohe » 13 May 2019, 15:53

It's reallyn hard to describe how thick the fishing fleets still are in East Asia, on the approaches to e.g. Hong Kong.
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Re: Fishing for analogues

Post by thoreau » 13 May 2019, 16:16

The fact that fishermen could get integrated into urban trading economies, while herders still keep their cultural influences going, tells me that fishing cultures are/were probably closer to agricultural (to the extent that this classification scheme means anything). They need stable bases of operation in ways that herders don't.
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Re: Fishing for analogues

Post by Mo » 13 May 2019, 16:26

Part of it is ports, but part of it is that fish tend to cluster in fixed, nutrient rich areas. So fishing in many cases is closer to mining than to roaming herds. Also, when sea life moves seasonally, they move to areas that are really hard to reach.
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Re: Fishing for analogues

Post by thoreau » 13 May 2019, 16:36

True. And miners also have heavy investments in locations, and have an asset that is usually hard to steal. ("Oh, you want to load all our ore onto a wagon? You go do that. By the time you're done the sheriff's men will be here. And then we'll have a wagon loaded for market.")

And I guess that fishermen's interest in fighting piracy would strongly overlap with the interests of merchants. So I can see how they fit reasonably well into the same economies as agricultural civilizations.
"They were basically like D&D min maxers, but instead of pissing off their DM, they destroyed the global economy. Also, instead of their DM making a level 7 paladin fight a beholder as punishment, he got a +3 sword of turning."
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Re: Fishing for analogues

Post by Eric the .5b » 13 May 2019, 17:21

Mo wrote:
13 May 2019, 16:26
Part of it is ports, but part of it is that fish tend to cluster in fixed, nutrient rich areas. So fishing in many cases is closer to mining than to roaming herds. Also, when sea life moves seasonally, they move to areas that are really hard to reach.
Though, you do get fishing cultures that roam a long way—see the occasional claims that Basque fishermen were quietly fishing at shoals off the shores of North America before Columbus.


A closer-to-home example, Thoreau, might be the salmon-centric Native cultures of the Pacific Northwest. I've heard a few claims over the years that they got about as large and sophisticated as a hunter-gatherer civilization could get. (Of course, I'm not sure how that squares with the more recent understanding that European diseases basically crashed the civilizations and agricultural societies that were all over the place.)
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Re: Fishing for analogues

Post by Shem » 13 May 2019, 17:22

thoreau wrote:
13 May 2019, 16:16
The fact that fishermen could get integrated into urban trading economies, while herders still keep their cultural influences going, tells me that fishing cultures are/were probably closer to agricultural (to the extent that this classification scheme means anything). They need stable bases of operation in ways that herders don't.
It's less that the fishermen need stable bases and more that herders don't, if that makes sense. You can be a herder and be self-sustaining in a way that you can't as a fisher. A decent-sized herd and enough grass to feed it, and you're pretty much solid. Boats, though, require more or less constant maintenance in order to remain in working condition. You need special equipment that a lone fishing boat would have to spend a good deal of time producing for themselves if you didn't have support from a community. If you want to do more than support a single family, you pretty much need either an agricultural base/alternative food source to carry a portion of the weight, or a town that offers specialization, or both. You see it when you look at sea-based communities; Polynesians practiced agriculture and also used rats as a food source. Scandanavians were traders as much as they were fishermen, and also had limited agriculture. Even the exceptions are telling; the Pacific Northwest tribes were the only sedentary hunter-gatherer society known, and they managed that not because of their fishing, but because the shoreline and woods provided enough to supplement the fish without too much effort. The comparison to mining is appropriate, both for the reasons stated and because mining requires a community to be successful.
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Re: Fishing for analogues

Post by Jasper » 14 May 2019, 15:27

Yeah, the mining analogy is making more sense to me.
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