Today’s Trophy Fish Are Tiddlers Compared to 50 Years Ago

trophy-fish-19501 Fresh evidence of fishing’s impact on marine ecosystems.

These are trophy fish caught on Key West charter boats in (a) 1957, (b) early 1980s and (c) 2007.

Scripps Oceanography graduate student researcher Loren McClenachan accessed archival photographs spanning more than five decades to analyze and calculate a drastic decline of so-called “trophy fish” caught around coral reefs surrounding Key West, Florida.

The study shows a stark 88 percent decline in the estimated weight of large predatory fish shown in black-and-white 1950s sport fishing photos compared to the relatively diminutive catches photographed in modern pictures.

“These results provide evidence of major changes over the last half century and a window into an earlier, less disturbed fish community‚Ķ” writes McClenachan.

“The ongoing debate about the status of fisheries in the Florida Keys is a classic problem of the Shifting Baselines syndrome,” says Scripps Professor Jeremy Jackson. “Managers mistakenly assume that what they saw in the 1980s was pristine, but most prized fish species had been reduced to a small fraction of their pristine abundance long before. Historical ecology provides the critical missing data to evaluate what we lost before modern scientific surveys began.”

“I think the photos in this very original paper will make lots of people change their mind,” said Daniel Pauly, a professor at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre and Zoology Department.

Research paper published online in January and printed in an upcoming issue of the journal Conservation Biology,

[Source: Scripps news release Feb 18 2009]

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