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Oct 19 2008

East Coast Striped Bass Population – Do We Really Know What it is or Are We Victim’s of the Shifting Baseline Syndrome?

Striped Bass Management, Striped Bass Light Tackle Fishing, Striped Bass Fly Fishing, Striped Bass Commerical FishingI received a call from fishing buddy Wild Bill yesterday saying he was reading an article in Smithsonian Magazine that was talking about how the size and numbers of fish have decreased over the years. The Senior Editor, Laura, of the Smithsonian printed pictures of typical catches from a Key West boat named Gulf Stream in 1957 and again in 1958 , 1983 and 2007. The boat has been updated to the Gulf Stream III and runs from the same slip. The contrast in the catches is striking. A link is not year on their site. If you have access to the Smithsonian, look at pages 56 to 58 in the September issue for a pictorial of how the fishing has changed. The catch in 1957 compared to 2007 is beyond startling. Laura fished a day on the Gulf Stream III and ends the editorial with: ” It was poignant to see so much excitement over catching [little] fish. The people on the boat don’t have any sense that it has changed so much.”

Wild Bill’s call sparked some interest so I went to the Smithsonian website to look around. I came across an article titled “Our Imperiled Oceans: Victory at Sea“which talks about a large reserve that was created in the Phoenix Islands in the Pacific, “Phoenix Islands, a remote, largely unpopulated archipelago 1,000 miles east of Tarawa. The 158,000-square-mile Phoenix Islands Protected Area, covering about 12 percent of Kiribati’s watery domain, holds some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs as well as a great abundance and diversity of tropical marine life. And it’s the first reserve to place such a large area of open ocean off-limits to commercial fishing. The reserve is one of the planet’s ecological bright spots, the boldest, most dramatic effort to save the oceans’ coral reefs, the richest habitat in the seas.”

While the reserve part of the article is interesting, what is even more interesting is a discussion relating a syndrome called “the shifting baseline syndrome

It was only in the 1990s that marine scientists became aware of what Daniel Pauly, a fisheries biologist at the University of British Columbia, calls the shifting baseline syndrome—the problem of establishing historic populations of marine life in a given species or community. Just what is a healthy number of, say, red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico? “Each generation [of scientists] accepts as a base line the stock size and species composition that occurred at the beginning of [that generation’s] career,”says Pauly. The result is that, over time, the expectation of the natural number of fish in the sea gets smaller and smaller—until the population is so small that even a modest environmental perturbation, or a tad more fishing, causes it to unexpectedly collapse as the cod population collapsed off Newfoundland and Labrador in the early 1990s. Sound familiar?

  • Think that happened with blue crabs in the Chesapeake?….sure did.
  • Think that happened with sea trout in the Chesapeake and along the east coast?…..sure did
  • Think that happened with sturgeon in the Chesapeake?……sure did, wiped them out
  • Think that happened with [u]oysters in the Chesaepake?….sure did, in fact our fisheries managers are so wacko that while they say we are at 1% of historic levels, they still allow for a commerical fishery that is clearly NOT sustainable…total joke (still waiting for CBF to come to their senses and make a statement like they did 10 years ago)
  • Think that is what happened with Atlantic [U]blue fin tuna[/U].?..sure did, they will be gone soon, the NC fishery is about all gone already
  • Think that is what happened with[U] tile fish [/U]in Florida, and almost happened in Virgina?…sure did
  • Think that is what happened with [U]cod[/U] in the Northeast? ….sure did
  • Think that is what is happening/happened with [U]menhaden [/U]along the east coast and now in the Chesapeake Bay?….bet it is…well in fact we know it happened, used to be 100 factories along the coast doing menhaden catching and processing, now we have one(1). Why is that? It’s because there are no more freaking menhaden to support the factories.
  • Think that is what is happening again with [U]striped bass[/U]? (you would have thought we learned our lesson the first time)……I bet it is!

And I could go on, but I think everyone gets the point. If we do not get our head out of our rears sooner then later fishing for our next generation is going to put mildly, stink if not non-existent for many species. Will among the list of species not around in 50 years be striped bass? Is striped bass management a victim of shifting baseline syndrome? What do you think? Leave your comments, I’d be interested in hearing them


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