OIL AND WATER: The Struggle for Georges Bank by William H. MacLeish

OIL AND WATER: The Struggle for Georges Bank

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MacLeish, who served as editor of Oceanus, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Research Institute magazine, is not quite the polemicist nor the scale-balancer that the Georges Bank imbroglio calls for, well as he knows it; but he does forcefully perceive the sadness of falsely posed polarities foisted on a citizenry in the guise of major regional policy choices. Before Georges Bank, the astonishingly rich northwestern Atlantic fishing grounds, attracted the attention of national energy planners in the mid-1970s, it was already the focus of tensions between fishing interests and the more ecologically minded fisheries-management researchers--to say nothing of sport fishermen and environmental groups. MacLeish roughly structures his story around the leasing battles that brought these elements together, starting with the Carter Administration's ultimately successful attempt to auction off a likely-looking parcel despite an existing National Marine Fisheries Service proposal to make Georges Bank a marine sanctuary. Between successive legal rounds, he gives us richly detailed chronicles of voyages made out to Georges by some very different craft and crews: fishermen on rusty trawlers, the personnel of a Mobil rig, Woods Hole or NOAA biologists and geophysicists on research vessels. Ironically, he shows the oil-versus-fish controversy trailing off to something of an anticlimax following years of drilling with no results to speak of. (The highest lease sale of all, the brainchild of James Watt, was cancelled in 1984 for lack of bids--except one from Greenpeace.) MacLeish is kindly to a fault, at his best in relating the inconclusive ruminations of concerned scientists. But his chosen persona, a salty New England equivalent of good ol' boy--""The sky was clear as gin at sunrise""--tends to pall over long stretches of narrative. It is often hard to figure out just what is going on in the court battles behind his cute metaphors and colorful paraphrases. Still, MacLeish does achieve a responsible study of the regional log-gerheadism that he sees an an increasing--and, on the whole, destructive--part of our destiny.

Pub Date: May 6th, 1985
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown