Shifting Baselines

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

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    Shifting baselines syndrome is when each new generation has a different normal form the generation before them. If a population is decreasing slowly than each new generation will have a different perception of what a normal abundance is. This may have contributed to the collapse of the cod fishery because of how old it is. Each new generation of fisherman though that population was at a normal level when in fact it was less than historical levels. Without looking at the whole picture it is difficult to see that there is even a problem and so cod will continue to be harvested as though their population is endless.
    I think the best way of avoiding the trap of shifting baselines is to estimate populations of fish each year and take past estimates into account when establishing harvest. This can become very difficult with a fishery that has been used as long as cod. How can we determine what the population was at the very beginning preexploitation? Taking historical accounts into consideration to try to estimate these numbers maybe helpful. It is also important to listen to older generations. Older fishermen tended to be more knowledge about cod than scientists managing them. Older generations may be the key to understanding a species and properly managing them.


    I agree that listening to older generations and taking into consideration their experiences is so important when trying to assess population health. Though not everyone is a scientist, they can still tell you if there were more fish than there are today. In the absence of actual historical data, their experiences are so valuable.


    I think it’s interesting that you suggest estimating populations every year as well as past estimates, because, as you said, it’s very difficult when species have been harvested for so long and is constantly being messed with by people. Traditional Ecological Knowledge is a way that people are actually using native and indigenous perspectives and stories to estimate populations and species diversity when no written history records populations. It’d be cool to see what we could learn from old stories, though it makes me wonder how we can double check this knowledge.

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Fish and Fisheries in a Changing World