Book Review: The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier

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The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier by Ian Urbina

The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier is the culmination of Ian Urbina's four years of New York Times investigative journalism chronicling piracy, slavery, poaching, rape, murder, and general lawlessness on the world's oceans. Much (though not all) of the book focuses on fishing and the fisherman caught up in this world, many of them against their will.

As the title notes, the oceans' international waters are some of the last places on earth where the law doesn't quite reach. Urbina details some of the reasons why, and tells some disturbing stories of lawlessness in the open waters.  Each chapter of the book highlights a different facet of the Outlaw Ocean. The common theme running through almost all of it is exploitation - of people, of fish and whales and coral, and other ocean wildlife, and of the ocean itself.

At places in the book Urbina also discusses some of the efforts being made to punish the guilty and to correct the incentives that fuel the exploitation and lead to outlaw behavior. He helps us understand that these efforts currently pale in comparison to the problem. In the Appendix to the book there are some details about what we as individuals can do, though the author admits the actions available to individuals are limited.

I found this book compelling, and hard to put down. I give it Four out of Five Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐. If you have an interest in better understanding how your seafood gets to your table and knowing what's behind the headlines you may have seen highlighting problems on the high seas, by all means read this book.


The problems that Urbina highlights in this book are the continuing focus of his journalistic reporting. While much of the material covered in the book was originally reported as a series in the New York Times, Urbina currently reports on this topic at multiple newspapers, magazines and journals. His ongoing work on the outlaw ocean focuses on continued lawlessness as well as  the overall health of the oceans as a result of humanity's exploitation of their resources.  

If you are a subscriber to the NYT you can find the original series behind the NYT paywall here. If you'd like more information about Urbina's current work, including how you can donate to make sure this kind of reporting can continue to happen, check out his website for The Outlaw Ocean Project.

The Outlaw Ocean links

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Updated November 27, 2021