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Why the Past Matters for the Future of Fish

As we eat further down the food chain, what will the future of fish look like?

What happens when we run out of long-lived predator fish, like cod or salmon, to pull from the oceans? We turn to smaller and smaller marine animals. In other words, we're eating further and further down the food chain so that future generations might be left with very little, quite literally.

At least that's what oceanographic researcher Daniel Pauly concluded in a landmark 1998 study published in Science (subscription required). Now, David McCandless of Information is Beautiful has visualized the study above for European Fish Week.

What's worse, McCandless writes in the Guardian, is that we're subject to a collective social amnesia, where we forget what the past really looked like:

Our fishing policies and environmental activism is geared to restoring the oceans to the state we remember they were. That's considered the environmental baseline. The problem is, the sea was already heavily exploited when we were young.


This ecological concept is explored in greater depth in a new collection, Shifting Baselines: The Past and the Future of Ocean Fisheries, which makes it clear that rebuilding our favorite fish has to focus on the entire marine food web—past, present, and future. It's going to take more than just avoiding farm-raised salmon or foregoing the fish counter altogether. If the future's going to resemble the bounty of ocean's past, it means we need more marine-protected areas that foster ecological stewardship. And, moreover, we need to think about the ocean as a vital shared resource.

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