Shifting Baselines

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

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    Isabella Erickson

    When Greenberg explained what shifting baselines is it sounded depressingly familiar. For years there has been less and less salmon to be caught in Chignik, until we did not fish at all in 2018. This year many fishermen were simply happy to fish at all, even the first opening was a month later than normal. What is happening now is very different from the time that my father talks about, when he once made one haul and loaded up three boats. I have been fishing with my dad for ten years and we have never totally filled up the main fish hold, never mind opened up the Sunday hold, even on the “good’ years. In fact, there has been a running joke on my boat for the past few of years that the thousands of fish making it to the weir must have dug a tunnel because we certainly are not seeing them. It does not help that Fish and Game always seem to shoot for the low end of their escapement goal, but that is another issue.
    I think that shifting baselines played a large part of what happened to northern cod, or perhaps it was less shifting and just differing baselines. I can see the baseline shifting for people who have been fishing for generations, each new generation trusting their experience to set the baseline rather than using their parent’s or grandparent’s baseline. However, a rich captain who just bought a boat a few years ago is going to have a different baseline than the one who has been fishing their entire life. The scientists are going to have different baselines as well because they have been researching this for a relatively short amount of time. None of this is helped by the fishermen and the scientists seemingly not communicating with each other, probably because of the fishermen not trusting the scientists and the scientists thinking that they know better than the fishermen.
    What is a possible solution to this? Other than communication between fishermen and scientists, we should research the historical numbers and habits of fish before letting people fish. Set a concrete baseline of the number of fish before people start fishing. We should also view the entire graph of the historical population numbers when making decisions.
    PS. Also, maybe, just maybe, we should leash the companies who are hogging the fisheries (Greenberg, p.g. 172).

    Ron Sheldon

    I like how you equate Greenberg’s shifting baseline theory to your personal experiences. It is very easy for us to base our perception of reality on what is front of us rather than taking the time to find out the full picture. Often the most valuable information from the older generation is dismissed. Also thanks for not bashing Fish and Game too bad…lol. Not to defend the department too much but sometimes they are making a decision under a lot of external pressure to “maximize opportunity” where public opinion outweighs scientific research. Take for example Chinook salmon on the Kenai. Scientific data would say the best thing that could be done for the Chinook fishery is to close it completely. However, pressure from tourism, sport fisherman, and local governments convince them each year to open it in some manner.


    I as well liked how you put your own personal experience of fishing into it because when you stated how over at Chignik there is becoming less and less fish each year, the fishing rates are different everywhere for example where I Commercial fish it’s been so bipolar that last year it was the worst season in 30 years whereas this year it was one of the best fishing PWS. Things are constantly changing and you can’t really tell if it’s gonna be good one year or bad the next even with the statistics it’s always a gamble


    It’s really insightful to hear your first-hand experience with shifting baselines. This proves to me that although some people may not understand what may have been normal in the past, younger generations can still learn from people with more experience as long as they keep an open mind. I like your conclusion that we need to focus on the science of the industry more in order to understand how we can continue to fish in a sustainable way while also helping wild stocks recover.


    I really liked your idea that well communication between fisherman and scientists can be possible solution for this. I agree that it is very important. Fisherman see and feels what is happening in real world but also scientists have access to look over the past and interpret what is happening. I think it is necessary for them to communicate well.

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Fish and Fisheries in a Changing World