Last updateTue, 18 Apr 2017 8am

Gathering the memories

B51There is a huge and elusive factor that often goes unremarked when we talk the bounty of the Bay of Islands. That factor is known as the sliding baseline. Wikipedia describes this term as one "used to describe the way significant changes to a system are measured against previous baselines, which themselves may represent significant changes from the original state of the system". Applied to fisheries, this is described as "the shifting baseline syndrome", a term coined by Daniel Pauly in 1995 to refer to the tendency of fishery biologists to consider as the natural baseline the conditions that existed at the beginning of their careers. 

In other words, how we remember the bay as children is different from the way our parents or grandparents remember the bay from their youths. Another experession for this is generational amnesia - the implications of which are being investigated by both NIWA (led by Alison MacDiarmid) and Auckland University Marine Laboratory at Leigh (led by Richard Taylor). Every generation thinks their memory is the truer reflection of the natural state, when in fact the true decline of the marine ecosystem has been masked as each generation redefines what is perceived as "natural".

Here are some memories from the past to remind us that our experience of the Bay is of a hugely depleted ecosystem that urgently needs our help to restore some balance.

20110724- DHW8765thumb

 "We just used ordinary cotton lines in those days...Later on when I'd go fishing in the Cavallis with the Maoris we used Maori hooks, with no barb on them so it's quick fishing. You can get a fish off... we'd use paua shell to make spinners."
Bill Stephenson (1930s-1940s)

alma-g"We came into the Cape (Brett) about four o’Clock. There were fifteen boats around the great rock (Piercy) and five were fast to fish. Eight of the other boats had one or two Swordfish onboard.
Zane Grey, Tales of the Anglers El Dorado – Gamefishing in the BOI (1926)

20110724- DHW8764 thumb"...all of a sudden there's a beautiful coloured fish...Stripes on him and the beautiful iridescent blue. And you see them taking the bait and then you tighten up on them and they jump and roll around, that's what grabs you
Snooks Fuller

"We pr20110724- DHW8761oceed to Bird Rock. Acres of Kahawai were darkening the surface and myriad little white gulls were hovering and fluttering over the top of them. The fish raised a white cauldron on the water and a sound exactly like a brook rushing over stones. The birds were screaming. Every now and then the kahawai leaped as one to escape some enemy underneath and made a prolonged roar in the water."
Zane Grey, Tales of the Anglers El Dorado – Gamefishing in the BOI (1926)

sharks"The total number of sharks caught by the fleet, including those taken at the pakoki held a fortnight later, was about 7000 - an average of about 65 per canoe for each of the two trips"
RH Matthews, 1910 - address to Muriwhenua Fishing Report, Waitangi Tribunal

ozone"At the Cape, a half dozen or more boats caught nine marlin. One boat had five fish on; and twice it had a double header, which is two strikes simultaneously and in each case only one fish was landed."
Zane Grey, Tales of the Anglers El Dorado – Gamefishing in the BOI (1926)



**  The "shifting baseline syndrome of fisheries" term was (the term sliding baselines was used by Paul Dayton to refer to kelp forest changes and has not really been adopted or expanded by others to any greate extent, cf Shifting). In New Zealand "shifting baselines" seem to be driven more by "generational amnesia" rather than "personal amnesia", and 

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