The present article aims to analyse the role played by US neo-Malthusians in the construction of overfishing as a global environmental issue. Its main argument is that this group of thinkers and militants made decisive contributions, between the 1950s and 1970s, to the formulation and dissemination of the diagnosis of a global fisheries crisis threatening the planet's stocks. These warnings about a global fishing crisis paved the way for present-day concerns about a planetary decline of marine life. By assessing the role played by the neo-Malthusians, this article analyses the history of the post-Second World War debates on ocean productivity, ‘unconventional’ fisheries, and fisheries exhaustion, showing how they were marked by highly optimistic expectations regarding the exploitation of the ‘ocean frontier’. For the neo-Malthusians, it was crucial to discredit this cornucopian vision of the ocean as a horn of plenty, itself a result of contemporaneous euphoria in the world of industrial fishing. In conclusion, this article sheds new light on the history of debates about (over)population and world resources, and on the rise of an ‘environmentalism of the oceans’ in the second half of the twentieth century.
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