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"When you're young, you look at the world and think what you see has been that way for a long time. When you're 5, everything feels "normal." When things change in your lifetime, you may regret what has changed, but for your children, born 30 years later into a more diminished world, what they see at 5 becomes their new "normal," and so, over time, "normal" is constantly being redefined to mean "less." And people who don't believe that the past was so different from the present might have what could be called "change blindness blindness."

Because these changes happen slowly, over a human lifetime, they never startle. They just tiptoe silently along, helping us all adjust to a smaller, shrunken world."

Daniel Pauly

They came, they fished, then snap! They posed. Right in front of their Big Catch — and thereby hangs a tale.
Robert Krulwich via  Loren McClenachan, PhD amazing discovery of Key West library photos in this article from NPR.

Courtesy of Monroe County Public Library

For generations, tour boats have been collecting fishing enthusiasts in Key West, Fla.: taking them for a day of deep sea casting; providing them rods, bait, companionship; and then, when the day ends, there's a little wharf-side ceremony. Everyone is invited to take his biggest fish and hook it onto the "Hanging Board"; a judge compares catches, chooses a champion, and then the family that caught the biggest fish poses for a photograph. The one up above comes from 1958. Notice that the fish on the far left is bigger than the guy who, I assume, caught it; and their little girl is smaller than most of the "biggies" on the board. Those aren't little people. Those are big fish.

Here's another one from the year before — 1957. Again, the fish loom larger than the people. Check out the guy in the back, standing on the extreme right, next to an even bigger giant.

Charter companies have been taking these photos for at least 50 years now. In some cases, they've operated from the same dock, fished in the same waters and returned to the same Hanging Board for all that time — which is why, when a grad student working on her doctoral thesis found a thick stack of these photos in Key West's Monroe County Library, she got very excited. Loren McClenachan figured she could use this parade of biggies to compare fish over time.

For example, here's a photo taken a decade after the previous shots — during the 1965-1979 period:

Courtesy of Monroe County Public Library

The fish in that one are still big, but no longer bigger than the fishermen. It's the same in this next one. Grandma and Grandpa are decidedly the biggest animals in the photo:

Courtesy of Monroe County Public Library

Let's keep going. This next photo was taken during the 1980-1985 period. It's a group shot, one of many. Everybody's displaying their biggest catches. Loren visited this wharf in 2007 and discovered, as she writes in her scientific paper, that these display boards "had not changed over time," which meant she could measure the board, and then (using the photos) measure the fish. Clearly, these fish are way smaller than the ones from the 1950s:

Courtesy of Monroe County Public Library

How much smaller? Adjusting for time of year, and after checking and measuring 1,275 different trophy fish, she found that in the 1950s, the biggest fish in the photos were typically over 6 feet — sometimes 6 feet 5 inches long. By the time we get to 2007, when Loren bought a ticket on a deep sea day cruise and snapped this picture ...

Courtesy of Loren McClenachan

... the biggest fish were averaging only a foot, or maybe a little over. That's a staggering change. The biggest fish on display in 2007 was a shark, and sharks, Loren calculated, are now half the size they used to be in the '50s. As to weight, she figured the average prizewinner dropped from nearly 43.8 pounds to a measly 5 pounds — an 88 percent drop.

It's no big surprise, I suppose, that fish in the sea are getting smaller. The curious thing, though, is that people who pay 40 bucks to go fishing off Key West today have no sense of what it used to be like. Had Loren not found the fish photos, there would be no images, no comparative record of what used to be a routine catch.

In her paper, Loren says that the fishing charter tours are still very popular. The price of the tour hasn't dropped (adjusting for inflation), only the size of the fish. Looking at the photos, people now seem just as pleased to be champions as those "champs" back in the '50s, unaware that what's big now would have been thrown away then. Loren says she suspects that people just erase the past "and will continue to fish while marine ecosystems undergo extreme changes."

Goliath grouper, Epinephelus itajara, is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). The largest grouper fish in the Atlantic ocean, goliaths can reach 8 feet (2.5 meters) in length, weigh 1,000 pounds and live more than 40 years. After being fished to near extinction, goliaths have been protected by a moratorium on harvest in U.S. federal and state waters since 1990 and in the U.S. Caribbean since 1993. Elsewhere in the Atlantic ocean, the species is either extinct, or critically endangered.

Over the last decade, Florida recreational and commercial fishermen have demanded a “thinning out” of the population, as fishers consider goliath groupers a major predator of spiny lobster, snapper and other grouper species, and the main reason for declines in such target species.

A study by Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres titled “Should the Critically Endangered Goliath grouper Epinephelus itajara be culled in Florida”, analyzed fisheries landing data since the 1950s, diver based surveys and published dietary studies. It concludes that :

1) goliath groupers eat invertebrates (worms, molluscs and crustaceans) and poisonous fish, not snappers and other groupers. Surprisingly, many of the prey consumed by goliath groupers are in turn predators of juvenile spiny lobster. Hence, goliath groupers are a fishers’ best friend, because through top-down predator control, goliaths could allow more juvenile lobsters to grow and become available to fishers.

2) the slow recovery of the goliath grouper population in Florida is not the cause for declining lobster and snapper stocks in Florida. Instead, overfishing is the main cause.

3) A thriving goliath grouper population could provide additional socio-economic benefits in ecotourism, and as a potential biocontrol agent for the invasive lionfish.

“Goliath groupers are a national treasure. Florida is the only place in the world where we can encounter these gentle giants, from juveniles to adults. Florida also contains 99 % of the spawning aggregation sites known worldwide. With this study in hand, we now have a strong argument to continue protection of the goliath grouper and dismiss any claims that the goliaths are destroying valuable stocks of lobster, snapper and other groupers.” Said Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres, the author of this study.

Goliath groupers gather annually in spawning aggregations at offshore reefs and wreck sites throughout the Caribbean and parts of Florida. During filming for Americas Underwater Treasures, a two-hour PBS special documenting all the U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries as part of the Ocean Adventures series, Jean-Michel, Fabien and Celine Cousteau witness a congregation of these enormous fish. Dive under the waves with them in this short film and discover the goliath grouper.

Overfishing Facts

Since 1950, one in four of the world’s fisheries has collapsed due to overfishing.

77 percent of the world's marine fish stocks are fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or slowly recovering.

The cod fishery off Newfoundland, Canada collapsed in 1992, leading to the loss of some 40,000 jobs in the industry. Twenty years later, the fishery has yet to recover.

Scientists estimate that 90% of the world’s large fish have been removed from our oceans, including many tuna, sharks, halibut, grouper, and other top level predators which help maintain an ecological balance.

Of the 3.5 million fishing vessels worldwide, only 1.7 percent are classified as large-scale, industrial vessels, yet these vessels take almost 60 percent of the global fish catch.

Tuna purse seine vessels using Fish Aggregating Devices entangle and kill a million sharks a year in the Indian Ocean alone.

Every year, the world's fishing fleet receives roughly $30 billion in government subsidies. Most of the subsidies are given to the large-scale, industrial sector of the fishing industry.

Industrial fishing fleets kill and discard about 27 million tons of fish on average each year. That means that one-quarter of the annual marine fish catch is thrown overboard dead. For every kilo of shrimp landed, over 10 kilos of tropical marine life is caught and dies.

Bottom trawling, a fishing method which involves dragging giant nets and chains across the seafloor, damages fragile corals and sponges which provide habitat for fish and creates scars on the ocean bottom which can even be visible from space.

Globally more than US$20 billion is lost to pirate fishing each year, much of which involves European or Asian vessels. The United Nations estimates that Somalia loses US $300 million a year to the pirates; Guinea loses US $100 million.

The Patagonian toothfish (often sold as Chilean sea bass) fisheries around Crozet, Prince Edward and Marion Islands were fished to commercial extinction in just two years.

Commercial fishing boats also kill tens of thousands of albatrosses and hundreds of thousands of other seabirds, mostly by longline fishing.  Considering that albatrosses can live 50+ years, and take over 5 years to reach breeding age, this is an unsustainable loss of a truly impressive species.

Greenpeace is working towards establishing 40 percent of the world's oceans as marine reserves, allowing the time and space to rebuild our oceans to healthy ecosystems.

Originally posted to Pakalolo on Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 05:36 AM PDT.

Also republished by Hunting and Fishing Kos.

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