Three shifting baselines to note today:
1) An article in today’s New York Times by Andrew Revkin discusses how “scientists are setting baselines to gauge future effects on the seas.” The article is a nice summary of some of the latest attempts to document the decline in ocean health even if it’s not brimming with lots of new facts. This example Revkin cites is a perfect shifting baseline:
In the 1970s, I worked summers for the Rhode Island marine fisheries agency. At one point, I was tagging lobsters as part of an effort to find ways to revive depleted populations. A crusty old custodian in the laboratory, Jim Pimentel, reminisced about how different things had been a few decades earlier.
“We used lobsters for cod bait,” Mr. Pimentel said.
2) In other news, PLoS Biology just published a paper by husband-wife team and Shifting Baselines favorites Jeremy Jackson and Nancy Knowlton called Shifting Baselines, Local Impacts, and Global Change on Coral Reefs. Unlike terrestrial ecosystems, particularly forests, which have been the subject of decades of study,…
…the situation is very different for the oceans, because degradation of entire ecosystems has been more pervasive than on land  and underwater observations began much more recently. Monitoring of benthic ecosystems is commonly limited to small intertidal quadrats, and there is nothing like the high-resolution global monitoring network for tropical forests for any ocean ecosystem. This lack of a baseline for pristine marine ecosystems is particularly acute for coral reefs, the so-called rainforests of the sea, which are the most diverse marine ecosystems and among the most threatened.
3) (Thought I’d save the weirdest for last:) According to last week’s Fish Radio with Laine Welch from Seafood.com News, we’re reminded that making farmed fish taste like the wild thing is the latest investment by the seafood industry. HQ Sustainable Maritime Industries, one of the largest tilapia growers, has created sea-flavored tilapia with a secret mix of flavoring compounds and other high tech methods to manipulate its farmed fish to taste like wild pollock. The company wants to break the hold that Alaska pollock has in the fast food and fish stick markets by better imitating the taste of wild fish. What’s more, is that pollock is only in fish sticks because cod collapsed! (Pollock also took over for haddock and redfish.) Tilapia to taste like pollock to imitate cod and crab, just another shifting baseline…