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Why in the world did we do this PSA? Is it irresponsible?
Here is why we did it:

ZERO PUBLIC AWARENESS OF MPAs

As Bob Dylan sang long ago, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

And we don’t need to go out on the street with pollsters to know that NOBODY in our American society knows the first thing about MPAs. By “nobody” we mean less than one percent of the population. Nilch. Nobody. Try talking about the subject at a cocktail party. Nobody knows nuttin’, except a lot of ocean policy people and fisherman, who unfortunately know too much and end up deeply embroiled in heated arguments.

It is incredible to see how much information there is about MPAs on the internet. Not that this is very scientific, but if you just enter the term “Marine Protected Area” on Google you get a lot of hits – like the following -- for comparison, here’s the results of some quick searches on Google for different topics:

  • Topic   /     Number of hits

 

  • Shifting baselines   /   16,200
  • Coral bleaching   /   47,200
  • The Ocean Conservancy   /   79,200
  • Jacques Cousteau   /   80,000
  • Overfishing   /   189,000
  • Hair transplant   /   256,000
  • Dolphin safe   /   284,000
  • Whale sound   /   439,000
  • Marine protected area   /   782,000
  • Baby seal   /   1,050,000
  • Finding Nemo   /   1,170,000
  • Penis enlargement   /   1,400,000
  • Janet Jackson   /    2,290,000
  • Andrew Jackson   /    4,120,000
  • Michael Jackson   /    6,030,000
  • Jesse Jackson   /   1,187,000
  • Jeremy Jackson   /   670,000

 

The general public does support the idea of national parks on land so it is not that alien of a concept. It just needs to be communicated a little more effectively. We chose as a starting point the simple icon of “tiny fish.” Everyone can grasp the idea that when you overfish an area, the fish will be smaller. This is not, as they say, rocket science.

TINY FISH: STRETCHING THE TRUTH?

Of course we exaggerated the real situation in today’s oceans for the sake of amusement, but fish ARE getting smaller in the sea due to:

SIZE SELECTIVE REMOVAL – the big guys are of course the best keepers. Catch all the big guys and you’ll be left with tiny fish

NATURAL SELECTION – evolution is something that happens to populations of a species when individuals are selectively removed. Fishing is a form of selection. When fishermen keep only the big guys, they eventually change the genetics of the population, which has now been shown to cause small scale evolution. James Bohnsack has a website that gives an overview of how this happens with this figure:

Fishing can have deleterious effects on fish populations, as it operates by removing the most desirable individuals from the breeding population. High levels of fishing can alter the population's genetics, by selecting for individuals that mature earlier and have a shorter life span and smaller adult size.
(Illustration: Jayne Doucette/WHOI Graphics)

WHERE ARE WE SEEING THIS TINY FISH TREND?

California for starters. There are about 80-some species of rockfish along the California coast. The average size for the majority of them is much smaller today than 40 years ago. Exactly how much smaller? It’s hard to answer that – there is so much variation and the data sets have not been clearly compiled as far as we know, but you can find plenty of references to it – if you really want to know, maybe start with Dr. Milton Love’s lab

It’s also very well established that swordfish caught today are about 1/3 the average size they were 100 years ago. And there are lots of other species with the same story. New England cod? Forget about it.

ARE WE ADVOCATING MPAs?

We are just the messengers. Please don’t attack Shifting Baselines for publicizing this issue. Our PSA doesn’t endorse MPAs per se, but only poses the question, “Do they work?” To find the answer to this its up to you to visit the various links we are providing and make up your own mind. But personally, we think the facts speak for themselves.

 

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