Baselines Shifting, Rapidly

There’s an eco-marine group called Shifting Baselines. In the past they were too preachy and too connected to the Hollywood Activist cause-of-the-day bullshit for my tastes (plus they showed hostility to anglers), but they’ve toned that down of late. The term “shifting baselines” refers to the idea that “A baseline is a reference point. When we begin to lose track of our reference points from the past, allowing them to shift, we can begin to lose track of change.”

On my last trip to Florida, the concept hit me while talking with an old school coastal Florida guy who’s into surfing, offshore fishing, diving–all the activities inherent with growing up along a coast. I told him how we used to go shrimping on my buddy BQ’s boat in the mouth of the Inlet some nights with a sack of tall boys, long-handle dip nets and a 12v spotlight . The shrimp flowed into the inlet so thick on high tide, there was nothing to it. The Old School Florida guy said that doesn’t happen any more. I told him how we used to skin dive, with masks and fins not tanks, in the Keys for spiny lobster. That doesn’t happen any more. We used to run out the inlet and drop our lines and hook into dolphin (mahi) almost immediately. It was stupid fishing. That doesn’t happen any more.

This is all anecdotal, but talk about a baseline shift. I’m 36, not 66. We used to do this 20 years ago, not 50. Since I’ve been paying attention I’ve seen some things get better–the net ban in Florida, the return of recreational swordfishing, the redfish recovery down South and the striped bass recovery in the Northeast–but it’s hard to deny that a lot of stuff is simply a lot worse.

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