TELLING OUR WAY TO THE SEA
PART VI. Mobula lucasana / The End of Nature
The 2006 article by Saenz-Arroyo et al. pointed me to many sources and provided valuable historical anecdotes.
On the assertion that Humboldt squid may be the single most productive fishery in the gulf, in terms of biomass: The total weight of sardines is larger, as is that of shrimp, but both of those are categories that include multiple species; when you divide them up into their constituents, the squid probably outweighs all of them. I say probably because I suspect the comparison is close with Monterrey sardine. Anyway, you get the point.
On the ecological phase shift in which large predatory fish have been replaced by Humboldt squid: Populations of Spanish mackerel are reported to have surged, along with the squid, in the late seventies, as if they too were benefiting from the removal of tuna. But the mackerel were immediately fished hard, and as their numbers declined, the squid continued to flourish.
Similar ecological shifts have been observed elsewhere in the world. (See my article "Sea Change".) In the Baltic sea cod fishery, for instance, overfishing of cod has led to a surge in the much smaller sprat. Sprat eat cod youngsters, and have therefore secured their place in the ecosystem--maybe. Its a cautionary tale for the practice of biomanipulation. There was much debate about whether the sprat should be fished aggressively to bring back the cod. Then, in the first years that cod fishing was drastically reduced, they started to come back. A recovery also seems to be afoot in the Eastern Canadian cod populations.
On the assertion that a manager has no reliable way of knowing how big a popualtion, left alone, could become, if a population is never left even remotely alone: Granted, he can turn to mathematical models and try to translate what he can estimate about the population—the ages of its members, their survivorship and fecundity—into a guess about its possible maximum size. But there are two big reasons to doubt such a guess. The first is the complexity of community ecology: A manager looking at the tuna population now, when it is checked by the newly dominant Humboldt squid, would not guess how big it was before it was fished down to its present, ecologically subordinate position. And the second reason is the complexity of organismal biology. Here is one example. Among grouper, very large mothers are disproportionately important to the population's reproduction. They not only produce a larger number of fry; they actually produce better fry, in the sense that minnows from exceptionally big mothers have the best chance of survival. But an overfished grouper population, as we've observed, is composed mainly of small fish. So if a manager were to measure the fecundity of today's population, he would badly underestimate its real potential. Yes, a manager could incorporate some important details of reproduction into his model, but for every fact we do know, there are many we do not. And in most cases, we probably don't know enough to be right about a population's maximum size.
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