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Dr. Brian Payne, Professor of History

Seafood and Sustainability

My current research project, tentatively titled “Eating the Ocean,” explores the political and cultural history of seafood in Canada. It examines an effort by the Canadian government to promote increased seafood consumption during the first half of the 20th century.

The government in Ottawa agreed to pay for multi-year advertising campaigns, which on the surface promoted eating more seafood to improve public health but were really designed to provide an economic stimulus for the failing fisheries industry. It was one of many strategies that the Canadian government used to aid the industry. Other methods included vessel subsidies, scientific research and transportation subsidies. Via these subsidies, the industry was able to extract more seafood than it would have otherwise been able to or that the market would have willingly absorbed.

The work contributes to the history of sustainability by demonstrating that governments often contribute to over-exploitation of fragile natural resources by aiding both the production and consumption sides of the economy. The end result was, not only did the government promote the extraction of more fish than the environment could yield, but it also promoted the consumption of more fish than the market naturally demanded.

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