Friday, December 04, 2009

Shifting Baselines

Do you know what this is?

If so, you must be older - like, for example, yours truly.
When I was a kid, I would visit my granddad in Northern Germany and we would rig up a disgusting slimy knot of earth worms and go catch European Eels, one of Europe's most fascinating, albeit equally wriggly and slimy Fishes. This used to be one of the region's most abundant Fishes and staple diets, either fresh as grüner Aal or as Räucheraal, the smoked version that would end up in dishes like the iconic Hamburger Aalsuppe.

I've called the Eel fascinating because of its life history.
All of Europe's Eels are born thousands of miles away in the Sargassum Sea, from where they gradually migrate to the European rivers (and by crawling on land, to remote lakes and ponds, too!), only to return back to the Sea as "yellow", and then "silver" Eels in order to mate and then perish, truly a titanic endeavor. This makes them diadromous catadromous, as opposed to Salmon which are anadromous and our Bull Sharks which are amphidromous (but are they philopatric? Or may they even display natal philopatry? Now that sure would be questions worth exploring! Juerg?).
Yes it sounds complicated but it's actually easy - and fascinating!

Thing is, whilst I was busy doing things with Sharks, the Eels have all but vanished (also read this) and are now classified as Critically Endangered. Shocking!
And they're not alone: according to a new study, 95% (yes, again one of those numbers...) of many of the North Atlantic's migratory Fishes have been wiped out. And yes, the culprits once again would be us:

Limburg and Dr. John Waldman, of Queens College of the City University of New York, report that a complex combination of habitat loss (caused largely by the construction of dams that prevent fish access to traditional spawning areas), urban sprawl, overfishing, pollution and climate change have led to the precipitous decline. Compounding the problem, they say, is the evolving knowledge of the humans who make decisions about how natural resources are managed.

"We're looking at shifting baselines here," Limburg said. "Every human generation gains knowledge about the world and establishes a baseline for what's normal. But there is no institutional memory about how things used to be."

No shifting baseline here.
I remember - and lemme tell you, this really sucks big time!

Please, read this, watch this and explore the website!

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