For the next episode of our PBS television series Saving the Ocean with Carl Safina, we visited the National Archives outside Boston with noted marine historians Bill Leavenworth and Karen Alexander.
Seeing the stacks and stacks of information was bewildering. But our guides for this expedition led us directly to 150-year-old fishing logbooks that they had used in their research to understand some of the trends in fish populations in and around the Gulf of Maine, Scotian Shelf, and Grand Banks.
One of their main conclusions is that cod and other fish were once about 20 times more abundant than they are now. In other words, we’ve eaten 95 percent of them. And, they say, we also caught so many of their prey fish such as alewives and herring that we starved them, too, leaving them too thin for best reproductive success.
The good news: In parts of the region, haddock, scallops, halibut, and even cod are recovering as a result of strong fishing restrictions of the last decade. Let’s make it a long-term trend.