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Big Fish Stories Getting Littler

Wednesday, February 05, 2014 - 11:38 AM

They came, they fished, then snap! They posed. Right in front of their Big Catch — and thereby hangs a tale.

Courtesy of Monroe County Public Library

For generations, tour boats have been collecting fishing enthusiasts in Key West, Fla.: taking them for a day of deep sea casting; providing them rods, bait, companionship; and then, when the day ends, there's a little wharf-side ceremony. Everyone is invited to take his biggest fish and hook it onto the "Hanging Board"; a judge compares catches, chooses a champion, and then the family that caught the biggest fish poses for a photograph. The one up above comes from 1958. Notice that the fish on the far left is bigger than the guy who, I assume, caught it; and their little girl is smaller than most of the "biggies" on the board. Those aren't little people. Those are big fish.

Here's another one from the year before — 1957. Again, the fish loom larger than the people. Check out the guy in the back, standing on the extreme right, next to an even bigger giant.

Courtesy of Monroe County Public Library

Charter companies have been taking these photos for at least 50 years now. In some cases, they've operated from the same dock, fished in the same waters and returned to the same Hanging Board for all that time — which is why, when a grad student working on her doctoral thesis found a thick stack of these photos in Key West's Monroe County Library, she got very excited. Lauren McClenachan figured she could use this parade of biggies to compare fish over time.

For example, here's a photo taken a decade after the previous shots — during the 1965-1979 period:

Courtesy of Monroe County Public Library

The fish in that one are still big, but no longer bigger than the fishermen. It's the same in this next one. Grandma and Grandpa are decidedly the biggest animals in the photo:

Courtesy of Monroe County Public Library

Let's keep going. This next photo was taken during the 1980-1985 period. It's a group shot, one of many. Everybody's displaying their biggest catches. Loren visited this wharf in 2007 and discovered, as she writes in her scientific paper, that these display boards "had not changed over time," which meant she could measure the board, and then (using the photos) measure the fish. Clearly, these fish are way smaller than the ones from the 1950s:

Courtesy of Monroe County Public Library

How much smaller? Adjusting for time of year, and after checking and measuring 1,275 different trophy fish, she found that in the 1950s, the biggest fish in the photos were typically over 6 feet — sometimes 6 feet 5 inches long. By the time we get to 2007, when Loren bought a ticket on a deep sea day cruise and snapped this picture ...

Courtesy of Loren McClenachan

... the biggest fish were averaging only a foot, or maybe a little over. That's a staggering change. The biggest fish on display in 2007 was a shark, and sharks, Loren calculated, are now half the size they used to be in the '50s. As to weight, she figured the average prizewinner dropped from nearly 43.8 pounds to a measly 5 pounds — an 88 percent drop.

It's no big surprise, I suppose, that fish in the sea are getting smaller. The curious thing, though, is that people who pay 40 bucks to go fishing off Key West today have no sense of what it used to be like. Had Loren not found the fish photos, there would be no images, no comparative record of what used to be a routine catch.

In her paper, Loren says that the fishing charter tours are still very popular. The price of the tour hasn't dropped (adjusting for inflation), only the size of the fish. Looking at the photos, people now seem just as pleased to be champions as those "champs" back in the '50s, unaware that what's big now would have been thrown away then. Loren says she suspects that people just erase the past "and will continue to fish while marine ecosystems undergo extreme changes."

Change Blindness

Daniel Pauly, a professor at the University of British Columbia, has a way of describing these acts of creeping amnesia. He calls the condition "shifting baseline syndrome," and while he was talking about marine biologists' failure to see drastic changes in fish sizes over time, it's a bigger, deeper idea. When you're young, you look at the world and think what you see has been that way for a long time. When you're 5, everything feels "normal." When things change in your lifetime, you may regret what has changed, but for your children, born 30 years later into a more diminished world, what they see at 5 becomes their new "normal," and so, over time, "normal" is constantly being redefined to mean "less." And people who don't believe that the past was so different from the present might have what could be called "change blindness blindness."

Because these changes happen slowly, over a human lifetime, they never startle. They just tiptoe silently along, helping us all adjust to a smaller, shrunken world.


Professor Pauly has noticed that we are now consuming more small fish today than we did 50 years ago. Cod, swordfish and tuna are gradually giving way to herring, sardines, menhaden and anchovies. He was recently quoted as saying, "We are eating bait and moving on to jellyfish and plankton," and soon kids will be giving up tuna fish sandwiches for jellyfish sandwiches. Sounds crazy, I know, but then I happened to notice a story about the cannonball jellyfish (Stomolophus meleagris), found off Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. It is now being harvested for human consumption. U.S. fisheries have opened to catch those jellyfish, mostly to send off to Asia, but hey, I'm sure there's some marketing guy imagining peanut butter and jellyfish snacks. In fact — and I kid you not — at the Dallas aquarium, they are feeding real jellyfish peanut butter, and the jellies seem to like it. So already we've got jellies with just a hint of peanut living in Texas. Can the "New P & J" be far behind?

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Comments [61]

KeysFish from Islamorada

While I respect the student's initiative, the baseline simply is not scientific because many of the species seen in those early photos are either illegal to harvest or their food value is so limited that they are released. Plus, most anglers today are not hell-bent in catching every single fish in the ocean. It's all about the experience and there is greater emphasis on catch-and-release angling. I wouldn't expect Loren to realize that, however Mr. Krulwich should have mentioned that while publishing this post. That said continued conservation and resource protection remains a priority.

Feb. 28 2014 01:51 PM
KeysFish from Islamorada

While I respect the student's initiative, the baseline simply is not scientific because many of the species seen in those early photos are either illegal to harvest or their food value is so limited that they are released. Plus, most anglers today are not hell-bent in catching every single fish in the ocean. It's all about the experience and there is greater emphasis on catch-and-release angling. I wouldn't expect Loren to realize that, however Mr. Krulwich should have mentioned that while publishing this post. That said continued conservation and resource protection remains a priority.

Feb. 28 2014 01:49 PM
Skipper Ryan from Key West

Wow! Being such a huge fan of RadioLab, I would've never thought the program would take such an unoriginal stance on a topic such as "overfishing" our oceans. The series of photos Loren/RadioLab has posted are obviously misleading. You (RadioLab/Loren) have left some important information out of your article. The large fish in the early photos are goliath grouper. The reason we don't see them in the more recent photos is because they are protected. Fisherman are required by law, for the past 24 years, to release them. They aren't even allowed to take them out of the water for a photo. Since goliath grouper have been protected, they have flourished. In fact, they have had such a strong comeback that most fish habitats in the Gulf of Mexico are overrun by these fish that now…today….weigh on average 200 to 450lbs. Local biologists speculate that these giant fish are responsible for the low fish count on smaller reef fish such as yellowtail and mangrove snappers. Although, there is currently no emperical data to support that specific speculation. I could go on and on disproving how this article is an amazing piece of bush league journalism. I guess I just expected more from RadioLab. Not to worry, I still love you guys. I'm even even thinking of giving myself hookworms. In closing, this "we are killing all the fish in the ocean" is just so overdone these days. Are you scientists or predictable-lazy libertarians?

Thanks for playing,
SkipBrah!

Feb. 19 2014 12:03 AM
debi glen from Point Laura

I would no longer fish in the Everglade basin , I have complained about a Probation Officer who is using Chemicals to Kill the Mangroves around her property .. A protected plant ... O well things are Not what they used to be there are Connected Zimmermans doing Lots of Damage in the Keys .. Visit @ your own risk

Feb. 17 2014 06:44 PM
erudino from Santander, Spain

I've read stories like this in nothern Spain, now they are astonished that there ain't that much fish and they can't even imagine why...

Feb. 17 2014 07:01 AM
acerbas from Ventura

Re: mphillips comment: "Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not."

Not true. Humans behave like every other organism.

All species expand as much as resources allow and predators, parasites, and physical conditions permit. When a species is introduced into a new habitat with abundant resources that accumulated before its arrival, the population expands rapidly until all the resources are used up.
~ David Price, Energy and Human Evolution

See the story of St. Matthew Island. http://www.geo.arizona.edu/Antevs/nats104/00lect21reindeer.html

Its just that with our big brains we have developed the capacity to be far more destructive than most other species. William Catton refers to us as Homo Colossus. Bill Hicks says humans are just a virus with shoes. I agree. Guy McPherson thinks we will become extinct within another generation or two because we are destroying our life support system. I agree. The planet will be better off without us.

Feb. 16 2014 05:38 PM
mphilips from Maryland USA

"I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure."

Feb. 16 2014 03:18 PM
Steven Earl Salmony from Chapel Hill, NC USA

Creeping resource dissipation, environmental degradation and ecological destruction, I suppose. And even those experts who see what is happening continue refusing to comment on 'the why' (ie, scientifically established causes) of it all.

Feb. 16 2014 12:28 PM
JB

Thanks for bringing this up, Radiolab. Its a great visual representation for what we are experiencing apparently around the world and also for king salmon. Mesh size in commercial gillnets on the lower Yukon went largely unregulated until 2010; larger mesh size selects for the desirable larger fish. Females- those fish bearing thousands of eggs for spawning upstream- tend to be larger than males. I find it especially interesting how rapid evolutionary change in body size can occur- some studies say within just a few generations, as writer Dan Oniell puts it:
"Evolutionary biology predicts that if a population is subject to significantly increased mortality (like over-fishing), earlier sexual maturity will result, and breeding will occur at a smaller body size. When fishing practices target larger (hence older) fish, it will intensify this evolutionary trend. Experimental studies confirm that harvest-induced evolution can occur in fish populations in just a few generations."
The state regulation is supposedly some of the best in the world but we could do a lot better.

Also, im really glad to know someone is thinking up ways to use jellyfish. We joke about how rich we could be if only we could sell the thousands of lbs we shovel overboard...

Feb. 14 2014 02:58 PM
Robert from Vancouver B.C.

Looks to me like good fishermen are in decline...

Feb. 13 2014 10:16 PM
Michele Thomas from Mingenew WA

We are over-fishing our oceans. One day, their will not be enough fish to feed us all, then what?.
Little fish must be allowed to become bigger fish.
Too much fishing, too much pollution in our oceans, too much fresh water run off from the land killing our coral reef formations.
TOO MANY FISHING BOATS ALL WANTING THE BIG ONE AND NOT THROWING THE LITTLE ONES BACK!
Stop now and protect our oceans. Before their is nothing left to protect.

LEAVE THE SHARKS ALONE. WE ARE SWIMMING IN THEIR HOME NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

Feb. 13 2014 10:02 PM
Joan Nelson from Canada

Trawlers have come and scooped up everything that got in their nets and dredgers
have scraped the ocean floor for anything left behind - as in oysters, dungeness crabs and now
king crabs are in the process of being fished out on TV none the less.
Individual fishermen would not make such a difference. It is the ones who's livelihood depends
on big catches. They fished themselves out of a job at the cost of our oceans and moved on to
earn a living elsewhere. Governments are guilty for allowing those trawlers and dredgers operate
without question or quotas from the onset. People are guilty for watching and continued to consume
without question. This fish version of genocide took place without visual evidence as each
catch dispersed. Unless all form of fishing is stopped completely there will never be small
fish left to reproduce, let alone grow bigger.
Ocean currents are creating colonies of many species of jellyfish now big and small and if
that is what the ocean will provide, that is what the catch of the day will be. Jellyfish
will be pushed put our plates as those same trawlers come alive again for another round - and they
will catch every one of those jellyfish too. Watch as the big ones become smaller and smaller.

Feb. 13 2014 09:05 PM
William Baroo from St. Petersburg

curious how many of the detractors of this story (and the story of this story) took the time to 1) read the original scientific publication (published by the peer-reviewed Conservation Biology - 2008) or 2) recognize what the paper's author (McClenachan) is seeking to accomplish. the hard data on decreasing size of fish within a population is well-documented and the over-riding evidence is that smaller fish sizes and changes in catch composition are the direct result of selective fishing pressure, not chance or natural variation. McClenachan is providing visual evidence to what is already well-documented and accepted by the scientific community. Indeed, she concludes in her paper that this visual evidence of disappearing large-bodied fish (such as goliath grouper) "supports evidence from previous analyses" but recognizes that such an approach must be on a case-by-case basis and examined through the existing regulations (such as the moratorium on goliath grouper since 1990). so, at least to me, those who wish to dismiss this work are demonstrating their own lack of inquisitiveness, personal politics, or inability to examine an issue honestly.

Feb. 13 2014 12:24 PM
Colleen P. Williams

Over fishing, over population, we humans have really done some damage. Sadly there are those too blind to see and who wilfully will refuse to see until its too late.

Feb. 13 2014 10:13 AM
me

Different species!! Groupers still get big!!

Feb. 13 2014 09:57 AM
Kenn Bannerman from Toronto, ONT

Nothing changes - it only gets worse.

Feb. 13 2014 09:11 AM
Lisa

90% of large oceanic fish have disappeared since 1950

If we stopped eating fish whose populations are in danger, then trawlers, chefs, groceries, and restaurants would have no incentive to provide them.

Look at this animated map of fish populations in the Atlantic 1900-2000.

http://vegan.com/blog/2011/06/06/a-century-of-over-fishing/

Then GO VEGAN ... it's easy, economical, delicious, good for your health, good for animals, good for the planet, good for other people, and doesn't destroy fish populations.

Feb. 13 2014 08:37 AM
Mark from Washington DC

Denial of human-caused change, and denial of the need to change human habits, are almost always profitable. As long as money can be made, resource extraction will continue. But with respect to this story of fish stocks in particular, I would not blame boat captains so much as those who seek recreation at the direct expense of natural systems -- extraction for the sake of extraction. Be it fishermen who seek glory catch, trophy hunters who want to shoot a grazing animal to hang its horns in the den, or four-wheelers getting their adrenalin kick by plowing permanent muddy ruts into wilderness areas -- settle down, people. Reeling in a marlin no longer makes you a man, if it ever did, Hemingway notwithstanding. The world has changed. The sense to recognize the need for resource stewardship is today's mark of a real man, because it betokens actual use of the human brain.

Feb. 13 2014 08:32 AM
Jeff Puff

I saw pictures of big fish out on the west cost in San Diego from a long time ago and the fish were huge. Those waters hadn't been fished for thousands of years until our early American Settlors got there so it makes logical sense that the fish were bigger. Once the fisherman showed up more fish were fished out of the Ocean and no longer were fish living as long; it may well be simply that the fishing caused the problem. The first fishermen caught the big fish that had survived and as time progressed the big fish were caught and their progeny were caught before they got as big as the big fish. At least that is my unscientific opinion and by looking at the pictures I have to be partly correct.

Feb. 13 2014 08:08 AM
Martin from st.aug,fl.

The very same in the waters of S.Mexico.You see pictures of Bing Cosby,
Dean Martin,Hemingway all with hugh catches.Iv'e lived in Florida for
35 years.We use to net mullet buy the million off the bridges.Now there are
none.The waters have been fished out,and it true how bad it has gotten
on the populations of all fish.The first are Black Grouper.Red Fish,Red
Snapper,etc.This is not uncommon to see fish sizing down.When the people
invaded the west they catching 100lb. cat fish,200lb. gator gar,15 lb.trout
etc.50 lb. bass.They got fished out.Fish never stop growing,left along they
can reach super sized fish.

Feb. 12 2014 11:30 PM
mark from New Orleans

Why would they catch so many huge fish ?? Nobody is gonna eat all that. Just wasteful.

Feb. 12 2014 07:28 PM
Mike

I see a lot of people disparaging the article because the species have changed. One commenter pointed out that there are a few of the giant grouper left, but it's illegal to catch them. He thinks that for that reason the article is no good.

But for that very reason, the article is good.

These charters are captained by conscientious stewards of their fishery. They changed where they take their charters to allow their paying customers to catch fish. If the giant groupers were still in abundance, don't you think there would be lots on the meathook? And therein lies the heart and soul of this article.

Read the title again.

Feb. 12 2014 04:38 PM
DPJ from PA

@ Pete from South Africa: While I would certainly agree with your assertion that "The article isn't a scientific study",(Not even CLOSE),it(this article) DOES call her work "a scientific paper", hence the possible confusion. I don't think anyone with a lick of sense would deny there are dwindling populations of many species of fish. The paper created by this student proves nothing other than different species of fish caught at different times can have vastly different size. I would give her a passing grade since everyone passes these days. Then I would give her a new assignment to clean up the first one and make it look credible.

Feb. 12 2014 12:30 PM
Tom from Washington DC

I'm late to the comments on this, but I have to say I'm disappointed in Radiolab. This is incomplete science. Many other commenters already pointed out the Goliath grouper photos and problems with comparing different species, not accounting for changes in regulations, etc. Overfishing may indeed be a problem, but shame on readers who blindly follow without deeper investigation. And shame on Krulwich for not questioning the validity of this study.

Feb. 12 2014 09:05 AM
Pete from South Africa

It is amazing how many commentators are either in denial or feel more comfortable sweating the small stuff. The article isn't a scientific study, it tries to use a series of photographs to illustrate something which is an already proven fact. Basically it is about the fact that we (humans) are 'stuffing up the sea' (by over-fishing plus may I add polluting)- our habits are toxic. And as a result there are(1) less fish and (2) less large fish. This is a fact.

Feb. 11 2014 11:54 PM
Jane from Las Vegas

Thanks Troy, I guess I'm not the only one who read a different article from the people who are pissed off about fish species representations. I didn't get that this was a conservation piece nor did I get the sense that RadioLab was bemoaning the loss of big fish off the Florida Coast. I just thought it was kind of an interesting story about perceptual change. Too many angry people on the internet looking for something to argue about.

Feb. 11 2014 10:35 PM
Steve Bloom from Oakland, CA

"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.

Teach him to fish and he'll deplete the fishery."

Feb. 11 2014 09:59 PM
Rick

Wow...I have been fishing for 50+ years now from Canada to the Gulf...Lots of interesting views...From my years on the water I can say that the big ones are not there any more in the quanity they used to be...Inland waters also suffer from gene depletion of a species...also think food... if only 1000 lbs of food is available to feed 1000 fish at 1 lb each...they are only going to get so big...back in the day there was more of everything...so possible to have 10,000 lbs for 1000 fish to eat...bigger fish all around....

Feb. 11 2014 08:17 PM
Erik

Yeah, I have to side with all the other commenters. This is a terrible study that I assume will get ripped to shreds as it tries to get published. Apples and oranges. This is not to say that fish baselines are not sliding - they are - but this is a spurious example. It seems even RadioLab gets it wrong from time to time. It's okay, we still love the show.

Feb. 11 2014 05:17 PM
Erik

Just so everybody has a good idea of what is really going on here.

the first few pictures depict the wholesale slaughter of one species of extremely large grouper called the Atlantic Goliath Grouper. The species that was once prolific was fished to near extinction by commercial fishermen. It is not protected by law and while you certainly can catch them, and catch them as large or larger than what is shown in those pictures, if you has the gall to stick one up dead and take a picture with it you would wind up behind bars.

THAT is why you don't see them in any of the later photos. Because a photo like that would be exhibit A legal proceedings.

Go just a bit further down and you see a whole bunch of Florida Permit. A completely different species from the Grouper. The Florida Permit is now regulated under a "slot" limit, meaning no fish under 11" or over 22" may be kept. All of those in that photo would be illegal and grounds for a nasty fine.

No surprise you don't see photos of them that size at dock, but you will see plenty of them photographed that size on the boat since they are not in any way endangered and highly sought after sport fish.

The last photo shows a catch of small patch reef fish that are not small for their species.

Basically. The entire piece is based on ignorance of Florida fisheries laws, or the basic fact that there are more than one fish species and that fish species vary greatly in size.

Please take a critical eye to what the commercial harvest looks like now versus then, rather than singling out sports fishermen who have fought for decades to protect their passion.

Feb. 11 2014 04:27 PM
Patrick Dorrian from Neptune Beach FL

That's no legit. They are using different varieties of fish. It is like showing a chihuahua from 2014 & a great dane from 1950 and saying look at the difference. The largest fish in the 1st picture are Goliath Grouper which are very highly protected. When one is caught they are no even allowed to be brought on to the boat for a picture much less killed. People are now complaining that there are too many of them on some wrecks & they are eating everything on the wrecks where they live. I am all for conservation, but this particular article is bogus which does not help the conservation cause- it undermines it.

Feb. 11 2014 04:07 PM
rory from Bellingham, WA

This article sparked lively discussion on my FB page! I drew up a response I thought I'd share here...

I am not trying to say that there's no issue with fish stocks. I'm trying to say that this article is total BS. It's RadioLab interpreting science through their heavily biased lens, and the target demographic lapping it up (it's not just radiolab that does this). And I LIKE RadioLab! A journalist theoretically has the responsibility to tell the whole story and this one fails miserably. I don't have the scientific chops to dispute the report, I am criticizing the framing of it. Showing pictures of progressively smaller fish without even noting they are totally different species is weak and irresponsible. Krulwich is a seasoned newsman, I'd expect more!

The report is about a VERY SPECIFIC fishery that has its own unique ecosystem and it's own unique challenges. Sportfishing is going to be disproportionately represented here because of tourism. OBVIOUSLY it's not representative of all fisheries. Probably a disclaimer that should have been made in the article, because an uninformed reader is left with the feeling of "look what fishing is doing to our oceans".

The article is remiss in not even mentioning commercial fishing, ESPECIALLY CONSIDERING THE REPORT DOES. Generally speaking, IN MOST FISHERIES commercial fishing is going to have a far larger impact on overall fish stock than recreational fishing ever will. You don't see alot of commercial fishing "trophy" fish pics. The sportfishing ones are accessible therefore sportfishers are an easy target.

Given VERY FEW people will actually read the report (and the Krulwich knows this), most readers are left with the feeling that sportfishing (in particular) is raping the ocean. People have no idea that eating coconut-crusted red snapper at Red Lobster (I don't know if they actually serve this dish) is having a far larger impact on fish stocks than the guy going out fishing with his son. Articles like this one give those snapper-eaters the misguided notion that the fisherman and his son are the real problem. Armies of misinformed people making unreasonable extrapolations, fueled by articles like this, is what I really worry about.

Finally, The fact that there are no Goliath Grouper in the latter pictures is a GOOD thing. It means the fishery is being actively managed. And from what I read, it is recovering. Another one of the feelings a reader gets from the article is, "ah, the good old days..." When in fact the "good old days" were actually the bad old days. There was little measurement, little management...totally irresponsible. It's like grandparents harkening back to the days when "people had morals" and you could leave your doors unlocked. Completely forgetting that black people had to sit at their own lunch counter.

Feb. 11 2014 03:31 PM
Wes from San Diego, CA

Differing species isn't really an issue. You would expect that, given the topic is overfishing. And so what if the biggest fish are no longer allowed to be fished? Why is that. Because since showed there population was collapsing from overfishing. Of course a look at fishing photos alone can't give you definitive, species specific data. But it can do something equally valuable- present directionality of change in the size and variety of sport fishing populations. If the data was spurious entirely, you would expect to find many outliers that opposed the general direct of the data. In my mind, it's worthy of consideration.

Feb. 11 2014 01:54 PM
Richard Broyles from Knoxville, Tn

I guess only I would notice that in picture #2(cap'n w/ goatee)that yacht is clearly spelled yaGht on left side of sign & yaCht on the right side ! LOL

Feb. 11 2014 01:41 PM
Pete from South Africa

Not sure how to edit - meant throw not through.

Feb. 11 2014 01:32 PM
Pete from South Africa

Most have commented on the main driver of this decimation which is population growth. The increased population has led to more commercial fishing and also sport fishing. What has not been discussed is simple pollution. I say simple pollution because of the fact that with all the focus on climate change etc we are forgetting that we are poisoning the seas: the driver of life on earth. I remember Jacques Cousteau writing in the late 60's or early 70's about the destruction of life on the Florida Keys and elsewhere. While this article is written about the USA the same phenomena is happening in South Africa and on the "Wild Coast" here. The fish species we used to through back or give to the poor (what we call a Cob)is now the most sought after species when eating out. Big fish are a rarity.

Feb. 11 2014 01:19 PM
John D. Taylor

Interesting idea, but few seem to have noticed that we're not talking about the same species of fish in all the photos-- some are, some are not.
Those big grouper-looking fish in the 1950s photos might still be out there, if FL law allowed anglers to go after them. (I believe it is not allowed to catch big groupers any more.)
I'm not disputing that changes are taking place in the oceans of the world, that is certainly so. But the evidence presented here as a basis for this is flawed. You need to compare apples with apples.

Feb. 11 2014 01:08 PM
Paolo Fratiaani from Indiana

Whomever first noticed this has done the world a favor. It shows what blindly using up resources does over time.

If you noticed the first picture the fish were absolutely huge. One would have been more than enough to feed the family for quiet some time. But they needlessly 16 killed or more of these incredible fish. I can't help thinking they probably mostly went to waste.

Trophy hunting is surely a sin upon the earth and one way shape or form we will pay for not treating her a little more kindly. Unfortunately such attitudes is common among western culture.

The Natives to this continent however understood about ecological balance and how it impacted their lives. Maybe we can transition as a society to adopt these attitudes into our mindset and help to restore the earth to its once former glory.

Feb. 11 2014 01:08 PM
Gary A Giddings from Houston, TX

Jellyfish are good eats. I eat then several times a month. Here in Houston it is not hard to find jellyfish on the menu. So Americans are already eating jellyfish and liking it.

Feb. 11 2014 01:08 PM
Mr Focus

People who are (correctly) pointing out that grouper are bigger than other species are kind of missing the point that if there were still big fish to catch, people would still be catching big fish. Size matters, no one is going for small fry if you can get teh big ones.

Feb. 11 2014 12:52 PM

I have seen the same photographic evidence displayed on many a wall in many restaurants on both coasts,not groupers but numerous species

Feb. 11 2014 12:15 PM
Chuck Anziulewicz from Charleston, WV

When the first photo was taken in 1958, the human population of our Earth stood at three billion. Today it is SEVEN billion. Do the math.

Feb. 11 2014 10:41 AM
Don S from Austin

So true. When seven or so, I went to Rye, NY, Playland. Returning decades later, I found it to be massively smaller.

Feb. 11 2014 10:18 AM
dee abeita from Atlanta, ga

Not only are these different species, they are fished from different parts of the ocean. Goliath Grouper tend to congregate in the big holes in the limestone shelf or near bridge pilings. Tuna are deep water fish. Permit are trophy fish for flats fisherman. Small snapper are often caught close to shore, though you have to go out deep for the really big ones. (Oddly, none of these pictures show swordfish (Papa Hemingway's favorite)or Tarpon, which are favorites of trophy fishermen.) So, no, this isn't apples to apples, but all these fish are in need protective limits or a ban on commercial fishing as has been done for the Goliath Grouper and snook.

Feb. 11 2014 10:04 AM
Wakefield from Georgia

What year is she figuring the prize winner's "average weight of 43.8 lbs"? Goliath groupers are several hundred pounds (over 500+), and her figures are off-to say the least-or she forgot to add a zero (based on her figures, she did not)-if the average weight determination is based on the earlier photos.

Feb. 11 2014 05:00 AM
Marty

I personally think the people have just gotten bigger.

Feb. 11 2014 03:10 AM
WV_Thoughtsman from West Virginia

We can't fish Cuban waters as we did in the 50s. OR... We've starved the people of Cuba for 60 years and they've eaten all the big fish. Take your pick...

Feb. 10 2014 11:22 PM
robert watson from St.Pete, Fl.

The Goliath Grouper "JewFish" are no longer legal to take, but I could take 10 a day if legal, and they eat all the juvenile grouper & snapper, however there are limits on big fish so you can't go all out anymore.

Feb. 10 2014 10:47 PM
Patrick McCormick from Alaska

people for the most part do not keep really big fish anymore... While lots of fish are documented as getting smaller (most notably bluefin tuna) these pictures do not really show anything worth noting except for peoples change in conservation attitudes. 60 years ago it was not uncommon for people to kill everything they catch, now with increased regulations and changing attitudes among sportsmen it would be less likely for people to kill really big fish.

Feb. 10 2014 09:02 PM
Vito from DC


How much of this can be explained by massive growth in photography?

Today, ten year old kids take tons of photos on their smartphones. In 1950s, people were more selective with using their film. They only took photos if it was something special.

Heck, even in 1990s, I remember my family being selective in using up film in our one and only photo camera.

Feb. 10 2014 08:54 PM
Andrew from Florida

Several people have pointed out that different species of fish seen in the pictures seems to negate them as evidence of overfishing or change. In fact, the species composition is part of the story. The idea of shifting baselines and fishing down the food web go hand-in-hand. Healthy marine communities are "top heavy", that is in pristine systems the bulk of the biomass is in large, apex predators. As systems are exploited these top-tier species decline in abundance and smaller species from lower positions in the foodweb become dominant. As a result, once one desirable species has been exploited, another species is targeted to fill the void. While the protection status of Goliath groupers may makes this less clear (keep in mind the frequency of people actually hooking Goliath in the lower Keys is still much lower than in the 50's and 60's), the shift from big Jacks and Permit in the 4th picture to mostly Yellowtail snapper in the most recent picture speaks clearly to the problem.

Feb. 10 2014 08:24 PM
Sebastian from West Palm Beach, FL

People are getting bigger. = )

Feb. 10 2014 07:43 PM
Cal from FL

I was present when many of the 1950's photos were taken. As a teen, O met my Dad each afternoon as the boats returned where he tagged those be mouths to be mounted.
Goliath Grouper, then called Jewfish, we're being slaughtered along with the sea turtles at the Kraals in Key West.
And while there were five Naval bases on that small island, fishing continued to dominate the economy.
What one writer commented about the progression and irregularity of pictures is partly true...however, even with the preventative measures in place now for years, the Goliath Grouper and all Grouper species remain small and certainy nowhere near the numbers of years ago.

It all comes down to just too many people on this earth.

Feb. 10 2014 07:43 PM
stevendphilbrick from Tallahassee

Those giant fish in the old pictures were Goliath Grouper. None have been caught in Florida for almost 25 years. They were saved from extinction when Florida banned fishing for them or possessing them in 1990.

They were thought of as pests because they frequently stole edible fish from fishermen and with normal tackle could not be landed. They took up residence around docks and reefs and terrorized the resident fish populations.

Many Charter captains in the Keys convinced gullible tourists to catch or spear them as trophies. Unlike where the same kind of thing is happening to rhinos, Their number is on the mend. However, comparing different species of fish caught across decades cannot make the 'science' accorate.

If the researcher wants to prove the point she is trying to make, she would do better to follow the catches of Giant Bluefin Tuna caught and landed near Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Feb. 10 2014 07:13 PM
Dave Kliman from New York, NY

Survival of the runts makes perfect sense. This same phenomena occurs with trees. Today's 80 foot fall trees are midgets compared to the 375 foot giants of the 1500s that are just about all gone. Whatever we have left is what reproduces, thus shrinking the future generations that come. Just like with everything else humans mess up, all this will go back to normal once humans are gone.

Feb. 10 2014 06:20 PM
Leven17

Are those photos supposed to support the story?
I don't understand, it seems that almost every photo shows different species of fish, and the species that are the same from photo to photo aren't all that drastically different in size. Not to say that ocean fish aren't getting smaller, but is this the best photographic evidence you can find from a purported "giant stack"?
Not only that, but each photograph is taken from a different distance in front of mostly different signs... The sea breem (I think) in the 70s photo are about the same size as in the 80s photo, but the 80s photo looks to be taken from a bit more of a distance.
The photos seem cherry picked to me, and fairly poor representation of the shifting baseline idea.

Feb. 10 2014 06:18 PM
rory from Bellingham, WA

Interesting article, but you're not comparing apples to apples. The "big" fish in the early photos are goliath grouper. There are no goliath grouper in the latter photos due to harvesting limitations, not because they no longer exist.

Not saying that overfishing is not a problem. But the fact that there ARE limitations on harvest shows that it's being dealt with in a responsible way. There wasn't a whole lot of responsible harvesting OR measuring in "the good old days".

Also, this article seems to frame sportfishing as the problem, ignoring the fact that commercial harvesting is the traditional culprit when fish stocks are decimated. Atlantic cod and Pacific salmon come to mind.

Keep that in mind when you're tucking into some pan fried red snapper at your favorite seafood place!

Feb. 10 2014 06:08 PM
Lula from Canada

I think these businesses and individuals should be sued for decimating these fish species. Just another example of how older generations are waging war on future generations through environmental destruction.

Feb. 10 2014 05:52 PM
sparto

The large fish in the first two photos are goliath grouper. As is apparent from the photos, these grouper were extensively overfished due to their desirabilty for both sport and fine dining. The fish are also inquisitive and fearless, which made them easy prey for spearfishermen. A harvest ban was placed on the fish in the 1990's and since then their numbers have rebounded to the point that a limited harvest is being considered.

Feb. 09 2014 05:59 AM
Trike

Very interesting story, and Troy's comment is a spectacularly effective complement to Robert's. Very efficient. Well done!

Feb. 09 2014 12:38 AM
Troy Smith from San Bernardino

The reverse is also true. When I was a kid, color television was still a novelty. My father's stereo equipment was housed in a large cabinet. My grandparents house had three bedrooms but only a single bathroom. Speaking of my grandparents, they told me stories of their childhood; while they had running water in the house (and not everyone did), they still had to go outside to a wooden shack to use the toilet. Most people who needed to make a telephone call had to go to the local drugstore. My great grandparents told similar stories though I was far too young to appreciate them. Their childhood houses had wells and oil lamps. Automobiles were a new fad and towns were very compact. In their lifetimes, they saw electric lights, gliders that were barely able to lift their own weight off the ground, and radio!

My kids barely look at their old ipods. Their kindle readers are collecting dust and my desktop computer is regarded as a 'clunky old dinosaur'. When they watch movies on our 54" flat screen hanging on the wall above the collection of DVDs that are collecting dust, I chuckle that, but the programming is coming from that clunky old dinosaur in my office (though my little girl has figured out how to stream video from her tablet).

I can't help but to wonder what stories their grand kids will listen to: "I remember when we used to have to key in phone numbers on fragile device that you had to carry in your pocket! My great grandpa says he used to drive up to the local mountains to ski, but I think he's making it up a) because there is no snow in the mountains, and b) you can't drive a car, a car drives you!"

Yes, perspectives change, but our perception isn't getting 'littler'.

Feb. 06 2014 09:54 PM

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