Fishing from past to present: long-term continuity and resilience of red abalone fisheries on California's Northern Channel Islands

Humboldt State University, Department of Anthropology, Arcata, California 95521, USA.
Ecological Applications (Impact Factor: 4.09). 07/2009; 19(4):906-19. DOI: 10.1890/08-0135.1
Source: PubMed


Archaeological data from coastal shell middens provide a window into the structure of ancient marine ecosystems and the nature of human impacts on fisheries that often span millennia. For decades Channel Island archaeologists have studied Middle Holocene shell middens visually dominated by large and often whole shells of the red abalone (Haliotis rufescens). Here we use modern ecological data, historical accounts, commercial red abalone catch records, and zooarchaeological data to examine long-term spatial and temporal variation in the productivity of red abalone fisheries on the Northern Channel Islands, California (USA). Historical patterns of abundance, in which red abalone densities increase from east to west through the islands, extend deep into the Holocene. The correlation of historical and archaeological data argue for long-term spatial continuity in productive red abalone fisheries and a resilience of abalone populations despite dramatic ecological changes and intensive human predation spanning more than 8000 years. Archaeological, historical, and ecological data suggest that California kelp forests and red abalone populations are structured by a complex combination of top-down and bottom-up controls.

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    • "After California mussel (Mytilus californianus), black abalone is one of the most ubiquitous marine invertebrates found in archaeological deposits spanning the Holocene. As a methodological benchmark, data were compiled from all excavated archaeological sites that contain at least 5% black abalone shell (represented by total shell weight) following previous studies and protocols used by Braje et al. (2009). These archaeological locations then were compared with the recent record of modern commercial black abalone fishing locations. "
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    • "Recent studies, particularly off the coast of Southern California, document long-term resilience of shellfish despite heavy human harvesting throughout the Holocene (e.g., Braje et al. 2009; Erlandson et al. 2008; Rick 2011). That shellfish endure despite longterm harvesting pressure leads some to suspect that prehistoric foragers may have employed strategies of conservation, or simply that some shellfish taxa are particularly resilient to human exploitation (Braje et al. 2009; Catterall and Poiner 1987; Rick 2011). Central here is the classic problem in "
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    • "Please cite this article in press as: Rick, T.C., et al., Archeology, deep history, and the human transformation of island ecosystems. Anthropocene (2013), mussels, red abalones, and owl limpets each document size declines through time (Fig. 2b), with the steepest declines occurring during the Late Holocene when human populations were also at their zenith (Erlandson et al., 2008, 2011a; Braje et al., 2009). These size distributions were also plotted against a finegrained record of sea surface temperature and marine productivity, which suggests little correlation to natural climatic changes and human predation as the driving force for these reductions (see also Thakar, 2011). "
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