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Shifting Baselines in the Chesapeake Bay

An Environmental History

Victor S. Kennedy

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This environmental history of America’s largest estuary provides insight into how and why its former productivity and abundant fisheries have declined.

The concept of "shifting baselines"—changes in historical reference points used in environmental assessments—illuminates a foundational challenge when evaluating the health of ecosystems and seeking to restore degraded wildlife populations. In this important book, Victor S. Kennedy examines the problem of shifting baselines for one of the most productive aquatic resources in the world: the Chesapeake Bay.

Kennedy explains that since the 1800s…

This environmental history of America’s largest estuary provides insight into how and why its former productivity and abundant fisheries have declined.

The concept of "shifting baselines"—changes in historical reference points used in environmental assessments—illuminates a foundational challenge when evaluating the health of ecosystems and seeking to restore degraded wildlife populations. In this important book, Victor S. Kennedy examines the problem of shifting baselines for one of the most productive aquatic resources in the world: the Chesapeake Bay.

Kennedy explains that since the 1800s, when the Bay area was celebrated for its aquatic bounty, harvest baselines have shifted downward precipitously. Over the centuries, fishers and hunters, supported by an extensive infrastructure of boats, gear, and processing facilities, overexploited the region’s fish, crustaceans, terrapin, and waterfowl, squandering a profound resource. Beginning with the colonial period and continuing through the twentieth century, Kennedy gathers an unparalleled collection of scientific resources and eyewitness reports by colonists, fishers, managers, scientists, and newspaper reporters to create a comprehensive examination of the Chesapeake’s environmental history.

Focusing on the relative productivity and health of its fisheries and wildlife and highlighting key species such as shad, oysters, and blue crab, Shifting Baselines in the Chesapeake Bay helps readers understand the remarkable extent of the Bay’s natural resources in the past so that we can begin to understand what has changed since, and why. Such knowledge can help illustrate the Bay’s potential fertility and stimulate efforts to restore this pivotal maritime system’s ecological health and productivity.

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Shifting Baselines in the Chesapeake Bay

Victor S. Kennedy

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Reviews

Reviews

Kennedy has examined the Bay's past abundances of seafood... sifting through anecdotal evidence and early surveys to arrive at a sense of just how full of life the Chesapeake was as Europeans began to settle it. His book also pulls together an accounting of how thoroughly we squandered the 'immense protein factory' praised by journalist H. L. Mencken.

From sturgeon to shad, blue crabs to bivalves, and terrapins to waterfowl, Kennedy has pulled together a wonderful and astounding account of the abundance that once characterized the Chesapeake Bay. The book is more than a broad guide to setting new baselines for recovering the Chesapeake's natural riches. It's an entertaining and readable history of how one of the world's most productive waters worked when it was firing on all cylinders.

What does ‘saving’ the Chesapeake Bay really mean? Despite recent improvement, we must do better than today’s still-fragile recovery. Dr. Victor Kennedy’s carefully-researched historical account of iconic Chesapeake fisheries encourages us to aim high. This national treasure deserves nothing less. It is time to make history—to have the Chesapeake Bay acclaimed as the world’s greatest natural resource success story, ever!

About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
7
x
10
Pages
168
ISBN
9781421426549
Illustration Description
1 color illus, 57 b&w illus., 4 maps
Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Units and Terms Used in the Text
A Note on Anecdotal and Quantitative Harvest Statistics
Chapter 1. Shifting Baselines in the Chesapeake Bay, the Immense Protein Factory
Chapt

Preface
Acknowledgments
Units and Terms Used in the Text
A Note on Anecdotal and Quantitative Harvest Statistics
Chapter 1. Shifting Baselines in the Chesapeake Bay, the Immense Protein Factory
Chapter 2. Why the Chesapeake Bay Was So Productive and What's Changed
Chapter 3. The Spring Fishery for Shad and River Herring: A Hectic Scramble
Chapter 4. The World's Greatest Oyster Fishery: An Expansion, Then a Crash
Chapter 5. Diamond-backed Terrapins: From Pig Food to Gourmet Delight to Protected Species
Chapter 6. Uncontrolled Market Hunting of Waterfowl: A Mass Slaughter
Chapter 7. Sturgeon: A Prehistoric High Jumper Fell from Memory
Chapter 8. Blue Crabs Hung On
Chapter 9. Have Diminished Animal Abundances Remodeled the Bay's Food Webs?
Afterword
Appendix. Fishing Gear and Methods
Further Reading
Notes
References
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Victor S. Kennedy

Victor S. Kennedy is emeritus professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. He is a coeditor of Ecology and Conservation of the Diamond-backed Terrapin, The Eastern Oyster: Crassostrea virginica, and The Blue Crab: Callinectes sapidus.