Shifting Baselines Phenomenon

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

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    The shifting baseline phenomenon occurs when a baseline that is used to measure change shifts due to differences between generational perceptions of what is considered normal or natural. Because you think of normal as how things are during your lifetime (which is relatively short), it’s hard to imagine that things could have been a different way. For example, my parents were kayak guides in Chinapoot Bay before the spruce beetles destroyed much of the forest. My only memories of the forest in Chinapoot are of many large, dead trees with small ones growing in between. However, my parents remember when the forest was beautiful with large, healthy trees. This same thing can happen regarding fish stocks. Though older fishermen had memories of cod stocks being more abundant and widespread in the past, the younger generation only remembered how stocks were when they started fishing and since they were still making money from the cod fishery, they weren’t worried about it. This caused people to believe that the cod stock was still alright, and thus more regulation was not enforced until it was too late. Sometimes attempting to preserve stocks at the current state is detrimental because then historical populations are neglected. The original stock may have been much larger and keeping it at suppressed levels may actual lead to further depletion of the stock.


    I agree, the historical population is neglected. When programs are set-up for restorations of sorts there should be careful consideration to a collective timeline including multiple generations of individuals living in the area. When using historical, local knowledge, a more comprehensive idea of what the original normal level was can be obtained.


    I like how you were able to relate shifting baselines to your own personal experience (and your parents). It shows how shifting baselines occurs not just in fish, but in all areas of wildlife management, including forests, wild game populations, and more. It’s a trap that can catch any sector of wildlife management, and it’s so important we avoid this. Like you said, just maintaining the current population size may not be enough, since it could be very depleted compared to the original stock.

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Fish and Fisheries in a Changing World