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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    • "Archaeological evidence suggests that red abalone were harvested on the northern Channel Islands throughout the Holocene , albeit to varying levels of intensity ( Rick et al . , 2006 ; Braje et al . , 2009 ) . The large shells of these mollusks appear in Channel Island middens beginning at least 12 000 years ago , but are most common between ~8000 and 3500 years ago ."
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    ABSTRACT: Bioarchaeological research among prehistoric Pacific Coast populations has shown that external auditory exostoses (EAE) are found in high frequencies. On California's northern Channel Islands archaeological research has demonstrated that there was an intense exploitation of red abalone (Haliotis rufescens), particularly between ~8000 and 3500years ago. If the Island Chumash were free-diving for red abalone in subtidal waters, EAE should be prevalent in prehistoric populations from Santa Rosa Island. We recorded the presence or absence, number, side and severity of EAE growths for 207 adult individuals from three time periods on Santa Rosa Island. Our results show that ~11% of the total population was affected, including 22.5% of males and ~3.4% of females. The incidence among females increases from 0% in the Early period, to 2.6% in the Middle period, and 6.8% in the Late period. Overall these are lower rates than those reported for other Channel Island and Pacific Coast sites. Given the relatively low percentage of Santa Rosa Islanders affected with EAE, red abalones may have been harvested primarily in shallow waters rather than the deeper subtidal zone. Our data suggest that gender differences in food procurement activities existed on Santa Rosa Island throughout prehistory, congruent with the argument that EAE is an activity-induced pathology that occurs with prolonged exposure to cold water and wind conditions.
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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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