Myself, I like a black seabass. Grilled.
November 30, 2005 7:54 PM   Subscribe

How Many Fish are in the Sea? During the heady days of the late 19th century, in response to a perceived decline in coastal finfish stocks, Spencer Baird and his clutch of young naturalists at the Smithsonian set out to find the answer. In 1871, Baird founded the U.S. Fish Commission. The Comission set up operations in Woods Hole, MA, where it continues its work today as the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (a branch of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service). The Fish Census of 1880 established the fist benchmark on fish populations in coastal waters; crews of Gloucester schooners competed to see who could bring the most bizarre fish finds up from the platueaus of the Grand Banks, and America’s first research vessel, the Albatross, was purpose-built for the project. Baird's protege (and later successor) George Brown Goode compiled the data into the first comprehensive reference work on American fisheries. Known to students of salt water as “Goode’s Fisheries”, the report (beautifully illustrated) remains invaluable to researchers today, as today's fish populations dip into an even more drastic decline.
posted by Miko (13 comments total)
Wow in advance.
posted by longsleeves at 8:04 PM on November 30, 2005

Hi, Miko!
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:24 PM on November 30, 2005

This makes my link to a video of people running around jumping, seem so unprofessional.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:19 PM on November 30, 2005

Fantastic post, thanks Miko!
posted by madamjujujive at 10:53 PM on November 30, 2005

So... how many?

Or is this another one of those bait and switch FPPs?
posted by JParker at 11:58 PM on November 30, 2005

Awesome, Miko. (But, yeah, what's the answer? A thousand?)
posted by Plutor at 3:53 AM on December 1, 2005

Such a great post! The illustrations alone are worth the price of admission, but wait, right now you can also get all the history and fishy goodness you can stand for no extra charge. Thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 6:19 AM on December 1, 2005

Well, I guess it was a rhetorical question, but I'll have a go. Exact numbers aren't readily to hand, even in these links. The 1880 Fish Census gathered "about 260 species, with over 50 species new to science." That survey concentrated on mid- to North Atlantic waters. The last link above is related to this present-day fish census, an ongoing project that will count species and also estimate populations.

As to numbers of individuals, biologists and fishermen still argue as to how to estimate population size. Mostly, scientists use mathematical models to project populations from limited sampling. A new strategy is to extrapolate from historical data. One of my friends worked on part of it at UNH (the New Hampshire UNH), where it's called HMAP. It was a really cool project where they used dockside records from the late 1800s to estimate cod populations using modern modeling techniques. They found bad news. The maritime historians and marine scientists I've worked with seem to think we are basically living in a time of an aquatic holocaust -- today's data indicates a loss of species diversity, lowest numbers of individuals, and smallest range of distribution.
posted by Miko at 6:26 AM on December 1, 2005

The males, however, have specially adapted biting teeth and when they find a female they bite into her body forming what becomes a permanent attachment. The body of the attached male parasite modifies to the point of being practically non-functional, except in terms of sperm production

More Rent Boys.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:35 AM on December 1, 2005

The fish decline is a an example of the tragedy of the commons. Individual countries grab what they what with no concern for the supply, & it's hard to regulate as fish schools migrate from territory to territory
posted by beautifulatrocities at 12:04 PM on December 1, 2005

True, beautiful atrocities, that is one big reason. But people are also looking at others, such as: habitat destruction caused by dragging heavy otter trawls for miles across the sea floor, ripping up the ocean bed; changes in currents and ocean temperatures due to global warming, which affects food supply; and disruption of the equilibrium of species caused by humans selectively removing big predators and finfish while leaving less commercially valuable species to overpopulate, spike, and crash.
posted by Miko at 2:42 PM on December 1, 2005

My jaw is in the dropped position. Also, I laughed out loud at JParker's comment
posted by nomad at 6:18 PM on December 1, 2005

Your turn, nomad!
posted by Miko at 6:50 PM on December 1, 2005

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