Shifting Baselines

Home Forums Due October 8 by 11:59pm Shifting Baselines

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    Shifting baselines, a term coined by marine biologist Danieal Pauly, speaks to the norm for different generations. It says that one generation will have a certain level of abundance that they consider to be normal, and expect when they go fishing. The following generation will also have this norm, but it will be smaller than that of the earlier generation. The level of abundance considered normal will continue to shrink from generation to generation, until what is considered normal is a far cry from the levels of abundance of the past.
    Shifting baselines likely contributed to the demise of Atlantic cod because the younger generations of fishers, weren’t aware of what the earlier generation had experienced as an abundance level. People, of course, tell stories, but younger generations tend to mark the stories of the generations that came before them as exaggerated and nostalgic, rather than realize the change that has truly occurred in the generations since the story tellers have fished. This relates so directly to cod because the generation that was fishing didn’t have the knowledge of where the fishery once was to comprehend the damage that had been done. Since cod are schooling fish, and as humans we had developed sonar and other advanced technology to aid in the catching of fish, people were catching more fish than they ever had before, leading them to believe that the fishery was doing well, when it in fact wasn’t. If the older generation had been fishing still during the years of the demise of cod, they would’ve registered the dramatic decline in abundance, and, hopefully, have brought it to the attention of the government so that more regulations could be put into place.
    To avoid falling into the trap of shifting baselines, the fishery managers in different countries should use records of the past to help them in determining the limits on fishing for commercial fishers. Since the fishery will decline, given the amount of fish eaten all over the world, these numbers should not be the baseline themselves. Just used as a reminder of what the fish population was, before it started to be fished, so that people know how to keep a fishery sustainable.


    I agree that if people knew just how much cod there was in the years prior verses how much there was for the younger generations then they would have had more incentive to change.


    You’re so right that if people listened to the past they would avoid falling into the trap of shifting baselines. Like they say, if you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it. Fisheries managers need to seriously analyze the differences in population sizes and animal sizes, not just compared to the past few years, but the past several decades. If they did this they would see long term trends, like in the case of the cod, where they got progressively smaller, and populations receded from their former historical ranges.

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Fish and Fisheries in a Changing World