Establishing Historic Baselines and Time Series for Rebuilding Anadromous Fish Populations and Coastal Marine Ecosystems in the Gulf of Maine

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Project Type: 
Research
Project Number: 
R/CFR-13
Inception Date: 
2010
Completion Date: 
2011

Participants:

Meghan Howey UNH - Department of Anthropology Collaborator
Beverly Johnson Bates College Collaborator
Karen Wilson University of Southern Maine Collaborator
Art Spiess Maine Archaeological Society Collaborator
Robert Steneck University of Maine Darling Marine Center Collaborator
Joan Trial Maine Department of Marine Resources Collaborator
Stephen Jones N.H. Sea Grant Collaborator
Adrienne Kovach UNH - Department of Natural Resources & the Environment Collaborator
W. Jeffrey Bolster UNH - Department of History Principal Investigator
Theo Willis University of Southern Maine Collaborator
William B. Leavenworth UNH - Department of History Associate Investigator
Matthew McKenzie University of Connecticut - Avery Point Collaborator
Karen Alexander UNH - Department of History Associate Investigator
Natalie Springuel Maine Sea Grant Collaborator
Jamie Cournane (Leff) UNH - Ocean Process Analysis Laboratory Collaborator
John Crawford Boston University Collaborator
Adrian Jordaan Stony Brook University Collaborator
Diadromous Species Restoration Research Network (DSRRN) Research Collaboration
Carolyn Hall Stony Brook University Collaborator
SeaPlan/ Massachusetts Ocean Partnership Research Collaboration
Les Kaufman Boston University Collaborator
Irit Altman UNH - Department of Biological Sciences Collaborator
Bruce Bourque Maine State Museum Collaborator

Students Involved:

Althea Marks UNH - Natural Resources and Earth System Science
John Greene UNH - Natural Resources and Earth System Science
Emily Klein UNH - Department of Natural Resources & the Environment
Abstract: 
Restoring anadromous fish to rivers in the Gulf of Maine is a high priority for public and private organizations, at local, state, regional and federal levels. Salmon (Salmo salar) are a charismatic fish and salmon restoration projects have received much public attention in the past. Yet alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus) and shad (Alosa sapidissima) are even more important to healthy rivers and coastal oceans. Small diadromous fish distribute energy among riparian, estuarine and marine ecosystems through foodweb interactions, and act as a bell-weather for ecosystem health. Scientists, conservation organizations, governmental agencies and citizen action groups have all come to acknowledge their importance in restoring river systems. Recently, scientists have begun to ask what role these fish once played in supporting a marine ecosystem that was once more prolific. However, the lack of critical long-term data on alewives and shad, and of historical parameters for Gulf of Maine ecosystems, was problematic. Historical information may improve restoration goals for a single species by establishing biological baselines in the past. Such data may also inform researchers about past ecosystem configurations in terms of primary productivity based on the passage of massive numbers of fish into watersheds to spawn, and in terms of predator and prey species within a coastal foodweb. Finally, by correlating trends over time with changing human demographics and land-use practices, how anthropogenic change along coastal and freshwater river systems has affected these processes may be revealed. Using methods developed during our previous research on Gulf of Maine cod (Gadus morhua), and in collaboration with scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, we will identify historical sources, extract landings data for anadromous and other fish species, and correlate demographic and land use information from customs records. Then we will link with modern datasets to calculate changes in catch per unit effort and catch per unit area over time.
Objectives: 
The project objective is to develop historical landings timelines for anadromous fish in Gulf of Maine rivers. In Maine, landings records go back to 1807 with the Maine Fish Inspectors Reports. Comparable historical sources can be found for New Hampshire and Massachusetts. A time series of landings will be produced for alewives, shad, salmon and other species. Since landings are given by town (Fish Inspectors Reports), and by county (Fish Commission Reports and U.S. Fish Commission Reports) spatial location is quite good. These datasets will be correlated with U.S. Census demographic information and land use patterns, including dam and factory construction. Landings will be mapped in GIS, with spatial resolution at the watershed or county level. Both catch density (CD - catch per unit area) and effort (CPUE - catch per weir and/or per person) will be calculated. Since northeastern Maine was relatively unpopulated between 1770 and 1815, baselines for rivers north of the Kennebec may be close to an unfished state.
Methodology: 
Data sources will be identified and assessed, and units standardized using historical analysis. Statistical correlations with U.S. Census data will be calculated using JMP statistical software. GIS will be employed to map all results. CD is a new metric we devised for historical data, which often provide greater spatial precision than modern data. CPUE, calculated across a variety of effort parameter, will be compared with CD, calculated by watershed or county. Population estimates will be used as comparable metrics for modern data, since fisheries are vestigial compared with those in the past, and trends will be plotted from historical to modern times. Finally, collaborating with researchers at UNH, GMRI, SUNY Stony Brook, and the Wells Estuarine Reserve, we will link these historical data to other long-term datasets to study long-term change and drivers of change in Gulf of Maine watersheds, estuaries and coastal marine areas.
Rationale: 
This project has implications for both single species and ecosystem restoration in the Gulf of Maine. Restoration efforts for alewives, shad and salmon may be affected by external factors such as climate or land use practices, or by biological factors such as species density. Moreover, the abundance of anadromous fish may affect the primary productivity of coastal ecosystems and the productivity of high trophic level fish such as groundfish or large pelagics. Thus, understanding long-term changes in anadromous fish populations directly impacts restoration efforts for individual watersheds and the Gulf of Maine as a whole.
Accomplishments: 

2013

Book based on historic fish population research receives two prestigious awards
Based in part on his N.H. Sea Grant-funded research on 19th century fishing records, W. Jeffrey Bolster wrote “The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail” about the impacts of fishing on the North Atlantic ecosystem over the last four hundred years. In 2013, the book, published by Harvard University Press, received two prestigious awards: The Albert J. Beveridge Award given by the American Historical Association for “the best English-language book on American history from 1492 to the present,” and the James A. Rawley Price in Atlantic History, given by the American Historical Association “to recognize outstanding historical writing that explores aspects of integration of Atlantic worlds before the 20th century.” Continued praise for this book indicates a wide-reaching interest in this topic, helping to educate the public about historic fish populations and place current stock structures into historic context.

 

2012

Protocols Developed for Alewife Culture Lead to Direct Economic Benefits for Business
RELEVANCE: Smelt, alewives and blueback herring comprise the most dominant anadromous species in the Great Bay Estuary and support limited fisheries. However, recent coastwide declines in their populations are causing concern. Producing alewives via aquaculture could aid in both stock enhancement and marine baitfish supply, taking some pressure off the wild populations to ensure their sustainability.

RESPONSE: NHSG-funded researchers developed protocols in 2012 for alewife broodstock spawning, larviculture and juvenile rearing, including the establishment of salinity tolerances for larval and juvenile alewives. Researchers demonstrated the ability to successfully mass-produce thousands of young alewives in an aquaculture setting.

RESULTS: Harmon Brook Farm in Caanan, Maine, is using these protocols to culture alewives for marine baitfish purposes. This company has benefited financially from the production and sale of alewives based on these protocols and they plan to increase production in the coming years.

RECAP: NHSG-funded researchers developed alewife aquaculture protocols that are being used in a marine baitfish supply business, providing direct economic benefits.

Book About Historic Fishing in the Atlantic Wins Bancroft Prize
NHSG-funded researchers analyzed 19th century fishing records to help establish baselines and time series for rebuilding anadromous fish populations and coastal ecosystems in the Gulf of Maine. Based in part on these historical analyses, the P.I. , W. Jeffrey Bolster, wrote The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail about the impacts of fishing on the North Atlantic ecosystem over the last four hundred years. The book, published by Harvard University Press in 2012, received the prestigious Bancroft Prize from Columbia University and is one of the best-selling books in the categories of marine biology, fisheries and aquaculture, and ecosystems on Amazon.com. The Mortal Sea provides both the general public and scientists with a thorough overview of long-term fisheries trends and impacts from humans.

2011

Historic Records Provide Guidance for Fisheries Managers
In an effort to establish historic forage fish population baselines for the Gulf of Maine, researchers funded by N.H. Sea Grant have made significant progress in digitizing and extracting data about alewife and shad populations from fish inspector reports and fish commission reports in Maine and Massachusetts variously ranging from 1804-1960. These data indicate that from 1880 to 1930 fish ladders were relatively successful at maintaining low to moderate populations of alewives that were harvested relatively sustainably by weirs until offshore landings began in the 1950s. In addition, the contribution of small streams emptying into estuaries to Maine’s diadromous fish population was substantial and has been overlooked in models that focus only on the production of large rivers. These findings will allow fisheries managers to improve model estimates and establish more accurate historic baselines in order to help rebuild anadromous fish populations.

Book Chapters Describe Daily Life and Catch Estimates from the Scotian Shelf
NHSG-funded researchers are working to digitize and extract data from fish inspector reports and fish commission reports in Maine and Massachusetts variously ranging from 1804-1908. As part of this effort, one researcher edited the book “Shifting Baselines: The Past and Future of Ocean Fisheries” and the others co-wrote two chapters for the book, which presented material from the historic New England cod fisheries. One of these two chapters described the Scotian Shelf fishery, uniting descriptive narrative about historical life at sea with the scientific analysis of the decline of catch and cod stocks. The collapse of the fishery is described in the words of the fishermen who suffered the consequences, and the abundance estimate of cod on the Scotian Shelf is explained in historic terms. The other chapter describes how lessons learned from both the Frenchman’s Bay and the Scotian Shelf fishery are applied to current management strategies and the gratifying increase in alewife abundance after the removal of the Edwards Dam in Maine is cited as good news for this endangered species. Shifting Baselines is the first book on the subject and investigates how historic perspectives apply to the crisis in fisheries management.

Lecture Series Focuses on Topics Related to Historic Fish Data
NHSG-funded researchers are working to digitize and extract data from fish inspector reports and fish commission reports in Maine and Massachusetts variously ranging from 1804-1908. Based largely on this research, the 2010-11 UNH Sidore Memorial Lecture Series in the Humanities focused on “Sea Stories for the Future: Interdisciplinary conversations on historic oceans and contemporary marine science.” Faculty members from universities throughout the U.S. and Canada presented a variety of topics related to the past, present and future of the ocean, and the implications for human populations of changes in the sea. Audience attendees for the five-lecture series included students and academics from UNH and other institutions, policy makers, fishermen and the general public.

Research on Forage Fish Records Helps Guide Gulf of Maine Population Models
RELEVANCE: Populations of forage fish — specifically, alewives and shad — in rivers near the Gulf of Maine have declined dramatically in the last century. However, very little is known about their status prior to the declines, how human activities affected their populations, and how declining populations affected the Gulf of Maine.

RESPONSE: Researchers supported by N.H. Sea Grant have made significant progress in digitizing and extracting data about alewife and shad populations as well as predator species from fish inspector reports and fish commission reports in Maine and Massachusetts variously ranging from 1804-1960.

RESULTS: These data are being incorporated into analytical models to determine the ecological and economic role of forage species in the Gulf of Maine and helped fisheries managers to develop a new method of estimating species abundance and distribution. The Boston-based non-profit group SeaPlan is beginning to incorporate the long time-series and spatial distribution patterns of alewives generated by this project into MIMES/MIDAS scenario-building models of nearshore ecosystems and coastal economies in the Gulf of Maine. In addition, the University of Maine’s Diadromous Species Restoration Research Network has used these data to explore new analytical techniques, such as variability analysis, to estimate changes in abundance of Maine alewives and other diadromous species over time.

RECAP: NHSG-funded researchers digitized and extracted data about alewife and shad populations from the 19th- and 20th centuries, allowing fishery managers to incorporate the data into their population model estimates and establish better historical baselines for the Gulf of Maine forage species and their predators.

Researchers Develop Catch Density Method to Standardize Catch by Area Fished
NHSG-funded researchers have made significant progress in digitizing and extracting data about alewife, shad and other forage fish populations from Maine and Mass. fish inspector reports and Maine, Mass. and U.S. fish commission reports variously ranging from 1804-1960s. Using these data, researchers developed “catch density,” a method to standardize catch by area fished rather than fishing effort. Catch density is already being used by other fisheries managers, in one case to determine the importance of alewife young-of-the-year in providing key forage for inshore groundfish populations.

2010

Studies of Fisheries Histories Aid Restoration Efforts in the Gulf of Maine
Populations of alewives and shad in rivers near the Gulf of Maine have declined dramatically in the last century. However, very little is known about their status prior to the declines, how human activities affected their populations, and how declining populations affected the Gulf of Maine. With funding provided by N.H. Sea Grant, researchers are digitizing and extracting data about alewife and shad populations in Gulf of Maine from Maine and Massachusetts State Fish Inspectors Reports from 1804-ca. 1900 and Connecticut and Vermont Fish Commissioners Reports. These data will provide a more thorough understanding of long-term population changes to improve anadromous fish restoration efforts currently taking place throughout the Gulf of Maine region.

Publications

Available from the National Sea Grant Library (use NHU number to search) or NH Sea Grant

Journal Article

  • Alexander, K., W. Leavenworth, S. Claesson and W. Bolster (2011). Catch density: a new approach to shifting baselines, stock assessment, and ecosystem-based management. Bulletin of Marine Science 87(2):213-234, April 2011.
  • Willis, T., K. Wilson, K. Alexander and W. Leavenworth (2013). Tracking cod diet preference over a century in the northern Gulf of Maine: historic data and modern analysis. Marine Ecology Progress Series 474:263-276, 2013.

Book Chapter

  • Bolster, W.J., K. Alexander and W. Leavenworth (2011). The historical abundance of cod on the Nova Scotian shelf. In J.B.C. Jackson, K. Alexander and E. Sala (Eds.), Shifting Baselines: the past and the future of ocean fisheries (pp. 79-113). Washington, DC: Island Press.
  • Rosenberg, A., K. Alexander and J. Cournane (2011). Management in the Gulf of Maine. In J.B.C. Jackson, K. Alexander and E. Sala (Eds.), Shifting Baselines: the past and the future of ocean fisheries (pp. 177-191). Washington, DC: Island Press.

Book

  • Jackson, J.B.C., K.E. Alexander and E. Sala (editors). Shifting baselines: the past and the future of ocean fisheries. Island Press, 2011.
  • Bolster, W.J. The mortal sea: fishing the Atlantic in the age of sail. Harvard University Press, 2012.