Thursday, March 29, 2007

There are Plenty of Fish, Not Enough Fish, and Too Many Fish

Fish abundance is up, fish abundance is down. Conditions are improving in Long Island Sound, conditions are getting worse. Here’s evidence perhaps that when it comes to figuring out what’s going on in the natural world, we don’t really know what we’re talking about.

There are so many fish in the Sound that the number of seals that spend the winter here is really high (although when a reporter went out yesterday to cover a seal census, the seal counters didn't found no seals, and yet both the Greenwich and Stamford papers published his account, which tells you something about the economics of newspapers these days, namely that they are so short-staffed that when a reporter's story doesn't pan out, he has to write something anyway because the paper can't afford to send someone out on a story and then have him not write anything; but I digress). Here's what a fellow from the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk opined about fish and seals:

"The seals follow the fish, so if the fish population wasn't healthy, there wouldn't be seals," he said.

Yet there are so few blueback herring and alewives – both of which stage spring spawning runs up rivers from the Sound – that the Connecticut DEP has extended a ban on catching them. Once they were so abundant, as the colonists reported, that you could walk across a stream on their backs and not get your feet wet.

One of the reasons there are so few of these fish now, biologists suspect, is that there are so many fish – namely, striped bass, which eat the smaller herring. The reason there are so many striped bass is that once upon a time – say, 25 years ago – there were so few that officials made it illegal to catch them.

I think it was Barry Commoner who said that in the natural world, everything is connected to everything else.

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