Leavenworth William B.

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William B.

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  • Article
    The history of ocean resources : modeling cod biomass using historical records
    (Ecological Society of America, 2005-03) Rosenberg, Andrew A. ; Bolster, W. Jeffrey ; Alexander, Karen E. ; Leavenworth, William B. ; Cooper, Andrew B. ; McKenzie, Matthew G.
    Managing the remnants of the ocean's resources is a critical issue worldwide, but evidence for what constitutes a healthy fish population remains controversial. Here, we use historical sources to understand ecosystem trends and establish a biomass estimate for a key marine species prior to the industrialization of fishing. Declining trajectories have been described for predatory fishes and complex coral reef systems globally, but few numerical estimates of past abundance exist. We combined historical research methods and population modeling to estimate the biomass of cod on Canada's Scotian Shelf in 1852. Mid 19th-century New England fishing logs offer geographically specific daily catch records, describing fleet activity on fishing grounds with negligible incentive to falsify records. Combined with ancillary fishery documents, these logs provide a solid, reliable basis for stock assessment. Based on these data we estimate a biomass for cod of 1.26 × 106 mt in 1852 – compared with less than 5 × 104 mt of total biomass today. In the current policy debate about rebuilding depleted fisheries and restoring marine ecosystems, it is important to recognize that fisheries for key commercial species like cod were far more productive in the past. As we attempt to rebuild these fisheries, our decisions should reflect real and realistic goals for management, not just recently observed catch levels.