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190 × 135 × 20 mm
208 pages
93 illustrations, 63 in colour
21 Sep 2018

Sardine Trevor Day

The sardine is a paradoxical fish. Seemingly insignificant, its exploitation has made fortunes for some and, when stocks have collapsed, caused hardship for many. Its status has shifted from utilitarian food to a gourmet’s delight. Trevor Day – diver, fish-watcher and marine conservationist – travels across four continents to meet the sardine in its natural environment, and he traces the fish’s journey from minuscule egg to item on the dinner plate. Sardine interweaves the story of the fish with the rise and fall of fishing industries. The sardine is a barometer for the health of oceans, with lessons for us all about our stewardship of the seas.

Day takes a scientifically and culturally wide-ranging look at the cluster of fish species called sardines, their relationship with other marine creatures and, in turn, with us. Elite predators feast on sardines, yet these silvery slivers are fast-breeding and opportunistic enough to survive their hunters. Whether swimming free as a shoaling fish at the mercy of predators, or tightly packed in tins – an image used frequently as a metaphor for overcrowding – sardines represent conformity and vulnerability. The biography that emerges will beguile readers fascinated with marine life, as well as anyone who has eaten this familiar yet under-appreciated fish.

‘Superb.’ — Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Review of Books

‘Thank you Trevor Day for making the commonplace miraculous. Sardines provide the second largest catch worldwide, sustain coastal peoples all over the world and are the basis of many oceanic ecosystems. A glorious book in a great series that makes you think again.’ — Mark Cocker, naturalist

Sardine reviews the history of the fish and its importance to humans. Day explores the biology and history of the sardine, the rise and fall of global sardine fisheries, and the role this fishery has played throughout human history, including its significance to religion, art, and culinary circles . . . The book includes several pictures and graphs, depicting not only the sardine but also marine food chains, equipment used in sardine fisheries, and reproductions of art related to the sardine. These pictures provide a rich visual component to an already interesting book. The information is presented in an upfront manner, avoiding complex terminology and making it appropriate for all levels of readership. Recommended.’ — Choice

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Originally a marine biologist, Trevor Day is the author or co-writer of more than 25 books in marine science and life sciences, including Oceans (2008) and Whale Watcher (2006). He lives in Wiltshire, UK.


1 A Hunted Fish
2 A Quicksilver Fish in a Strange World
3 Fortunes Won
4 To Eat a Sardine
5 Fortunes Lost
6 Cultural Sardines
7 Prospect

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An intriguing book about an intriguing fish by Geoffrey Carr   
Sardine is a delight. The debt to Mark Kurlansky’s Cod is clear, but Trevor Day’s canvas goes beyond Kurlansky’s historical, human-centred approach to look at life from the sardine’s point of view as well. The gauntlet of the ‘sardine run’, off the coast of South Africa, when every dolphin and seabird in the region is after them. The unexpected invertebrate predators, from comb jellies to arrow worms. The sheer sense of attrition that converts the 60,000-80,000 eggs laid in a season by a female into the (on average) two fish that replace her and the father – or would have done until human industrial fishing came along. Day is also good on the scientists who have painted the canvas of the sardines’ lifestyle. Sir Alister Hardy, with his continuous plankton recorder. Charles Hickling, who devoted more than three years of his life to recording sardines’ stomach contents. Even Ed Ricketts, essentially an amateur, who was the inspiration for ‘Doc’ in Cannery Row, a novel set among sardine canneries. The wider history is there, too, though. Who knew that Thomas Bodley, the founder of Oxford University’s library, owed his fortune to sardines? Or that St Anthony of Padua has a sardine festival on the streets of Lisbon. Or that, in 19th-century Cornwall, there was a profession called ‘huer’ which involved sitting on a cliff top day after day trying to spot sardine shoals, and then directing boats towards them by a system of semaphore. Sardines may not have driven the colonisation of new worlds, or provoked wars, in quite the way that codfish once did. But they were every bit as important to local economies, and local nutrition. And they are every bit as interesting.