Chapter 20: Fisheries and Fish Biology in Transition: Challenges and Opportunities for the Next Generation
April Croxton and Cecil A. Jennings
Archeological evidence confirms that aquatic organisms have been an important source of protein for humans for millennia, especially for communities in close proximity to those resources (Nash 2011). Initially, limited ability to preserve aquatic-derived protein restricted its distribution and limited catch to what could be consumed locally. However, the development of various preservation methods (e.g., air drying, smoking, salting) eventually led to increased “shelf life” of harvested aquatic organisms and their use as a commodity (Nash 2011) between coastal and inland communities. By the Bronze Age, commercial fishing was a developed industry along the Mediterranean coastline, and seafood was a commonly traded commodity that allowed many local economies to develop and thrive (Nash 2011).
Seafood’s importance as a protein source and an economic driver continues to this day, and this increasing demand has often exceeded and continues to exceed the production capacity of wild populations. The history books and scientific literature are replete with accounts of the discovery, evolution, overexploitation, and collapse of one fishery or another. This pattern has been repeated many times and is an ever-present conservation concern (e.g., Pinsky et al. 2011). The discovery, overexploitation, and eventual collapse of the Atlantic Cod Gadus morhua (hereafter, referred to as “cod”) fishery in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean is a classic example. The abundance of cod in the waters off what is now Newfoundland, Canada, and the northeastern United States most likely sustained native peoples (Nash 2011) as well as the earliest European explorers who visited the area ~900 years before the common era (Kurlansky 1997). The number of European settlers to the area, motivated by a desire to fish the abundant fish stocks, began to grow (Jensen 1967). Cod was the basis for this fishery until the early 1800s, after which other groundfish species contributed to the commercial landings (Jensen 1967).