Volume 6, No. 1
Promoting Cooperation to Maintain and Enhance
|Study to examine
history of marine animals
By Maureen Kelly
Historians are joining ecologists to study how humans have changed the marine ecology by fishing and whaling around the world. The History of Marine Animal Populations (HMAP) project, centered at three universities - University of Southern Denmark, University of Hull in the U.K. and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) - will involve researchers at some 30 institutions. In what is expected to be a ten-year study, HMAP researchers have begun conducting eight case studies in areas that have been heavily fished in the past and that have sufficient historical data to show changes in the ecosystem.
The focus of the study is to find out what happened in these ecosystems when fishing occurred, said Dr. Tim D. Smith, a fisheries scientist with NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Boston who conceived the project with Dr. Poul Holm, a Danish historian.
"A stable system pre-fishing and a stable system after
you've done some significant fishing are very different," Smith said citing
HMAP's case study in Southeast Australia that is showing evidence that
large-scale fishing, begun in the early 1900s, quickly altered the species
composition of the fishery.
"Basque fishermen and whalers knew about the area before Columbus 'discovered' America," Smith said.
Schooner hand-line fishing for cod on George's Bank. Courtesy of NOAA Historic Photo Archives.
In the Gulf of Maine, UNH researchers are studying logbooks of cod catch from the mid-19th century when a bounty on cod gave fishermen an incentive to report their landings. They are discovering that those fishermen traveled long distances, said Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, dean of life sciences and agriculture at UNH, who is overseeing the Gulf of Maine case study. Rosenberg wants to find if 19th century fishing grounds correspond to 20th century fishing grounds. By creating an oral history of fishing on Jeffrey's Ledge, an important fishing ground today, he and his students hope to determine if 19th century fishermen worked the area as frequently.
UNH researchers are also working on a history of fishing on the Isles of Shoals, trying to determine what caused the collapse of the halibut fishery and studying shellfish and introduced species. A student is mapping archeological sites on the Gulf of Maine, as well. Rosenberg said the focus, "is both land and water sites of archeological interest, not just fishing related, but broader, because we are interested in the development around the Gulf of Maine."
Some data from the Gulf of Maine will contribute to HMAP's
World Wide Whaling study.
To find out more about the program go to: www.coreocean.org/censhmap1.html.