Thu Feb 10, 2005 9:55 pm
Intensive fishing was an ancient practice
Intensive fishing by humans may be more ancient than previously thought, suggests a new archaeological study, which shows that significant marine fishing may have started in the UK in the 9th century AD.
The diminishing levels of marine fish stocks as a result of over-fishing has caused great concern since the mid-20th century. The rapid increase in commercial fishing after World War II has had a devastating impact on the marine ecosystem in the North Sea, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and caused a number of marine fish species to become endangered.
But new analyses of remains at key archaeological sites in England suggest that the foundations of this recent problem were laid as far back as AD 1000.
James Barrett and colleagues at the University of York looked at fish bones, dating from AD 600 to AD 1600, recovered from a range of archaeological sites across Britain. To their surprise, they discovered a sudden and dramatic change in the intensity of fishing and the type of fish deposited at the sites in just a 50-year period, around AD 1000.
“Before AD 1000, most of the fish had been freshwater, but there was a rapid change to marine fish – mainly cod and herring – which was very unexpected. And it was by far the biggest change we saw during the period we looked at,” says Barrett.
The researchers had been expecting an increase in marine fish at about AD 1400 - corresponding to the new Icelandic cod-fishing channels that were expanded at the time - or perhaps in AD 1500, when fishermen explored the New World areas.
“According to climate data, AD 1000 was a warm period, when cod and herring would have been less abundant and the conditions would have conducive to agricultural expansion on the land, so it is surprising that marine fishing was intensified then,” Barrett told New Scientist.
“I suspect what happened was that over-fishing of freshwater stocks meant that they became a rarity and only for the wealthy landowners. As a result, marine fishing and trade in salt cod and dried herring became much more intensive and supplied the common market,” he suggests.
The team pinpoints the “fish event horizon” at the turn of the first millennium as “the ultimate origin of today’s fishing crisis”.
Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society London B (DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2004.1885)
Mon Feb 14, 2005 3:38 pm
anybody at all interested in declining stocks and fish conservation should (or even, MUST) have a read of these two books:
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, by Mark Kurlansky
The End of the Line: How Over-fishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat, by Charles Clover.
Books that make you weep.......