Rapidly shifting environmental baselines among fishers of the Gulf of California. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 272, 1957-1962

Environment Department, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (Impact Factor: 5.05). 09/2005; 272(1575):1957-62. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3175
Source: PubMed


Shifting environmental baselines are inter-generational changes in perception of the state of the environment. As one generation replaces another, people's perceptions of what is natural change even to the extent that they no longer believe historical anecdotes of past abundance or size of species. Although widely accepted, this phenomenon has yet to be quantitatively tested. Here we survey three generations of fishers from Mexico's Gulf of California (N=108), where fish populations have declined steeply over the last 60 years, to investigate how far and fast their environmental baselines are shifting. Compared to young fishers, old fishers named five times as many species and four times as many fishing sites as once being abundant/productive but now depleted (Kruskal-Wallis tests, both p<0.001) with no evidence of a slowdown in rates of loss experienced by younger compared to older generations (Kruskal-Wallis test, n.s. in both cases). Old fishers caught up to 25 times as many Gulf grouper Mycteroperca jordani as young fishers on their best ever fishing day (regression r(2)=0.62, p<0.001). Despite times of plentiful large fish still being within living memory, few young fishers appreciated that large species had ever been common or nearshore sites productive. Such rapid shifts in perception of what is natural help explain why society is tolerant of the creeping loss of biodiversity. They imply a large educational hurdle in efforts to reset expectations and targets for conservation.

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    • "In cases where entrenched paradigms or shifted baselines exist, a historical perspective can provide important data to inform local communities and decision-makers of the magnitude of changes that have occurred. Communicating the experience of older fishers can also play an important role in combating such paradigms, as older fishers are likely to have experienced more striking declines than younger fishers (Beaudreau and Levin, 2014; S aenz-Arroyo et al., 2005). "
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    • "legal right (Cinti et al. 2009 , 2010 ; Basurto et al. 2012 ). As a result, the fi sheries of northwestern Mexico are generally characterized by de facto open-access (Cint et al. 2009 ) and it is increasingly evident that these regional small-scale fi sheries and associated ecosystems are in decline (Sala et al. 2004 ; Saenz-Arroyo et al. 2005 ; OECD 2006 ; Lluch-Cota et al. 2007 ; Peckham et al. 2007 ; Sagarin et al. 2008 ). However, there are documented examples of fi shers who have continued to sustain collective action, through enduring self-governance or co-management regimes, despite being embedded in a larger system characterized by illegality and corruption ( Basurto 2005 ; Ponce-Díaz et al. 2009b ; Basurto and Speer 2012 ; McCay et al. 2014 ). "
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    • "Hence, environmental degradation influenced continued involvement in fishing. This is also supportive of other studies in Central America and Asia [45] [46] [47] [48]. This environmental knowledge was thus a factor for rejecting the third hypothesis that fishers have dropped out of the fishing industry because of the severity of the declining catches [2] [3]. "
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