Local Ecological Knowledge and Scientific Data Reveal Overexploitation by Multigear Artisanal Fisheries in the Southwestern Atlantic
In the last decades, a number of studies based on historical records revealed the diversity loss in the oceans and human-induced changes to marine ecosystems. These studies have improved our understanding of the human impacts in the oceans. They also drew attention to the shifting baseline syndrome and the importance of assessing appropriate sources of data in order to build the most reliable environmental baseline. Here we amassed information from artisanal fishermen's local ecological knowledge, fisheries landing data and underwater visual census to assess the decline of fish species in Southeastern Brazil. Interviews with 214 fishermen from line, beach seine and spearfishing revealed a sharp decline in abundance of the bluefish Pomatomus saltatrix, the groupers Epinephelus marginatus, Mycteroperca acutirostris, M. bonaci and M. microlepis, and large parrotfishes in the past six decades. Fisheries landing data from a 16-year period support the decline of bluefish as pointed by fishermen's local knowledge, while underwater visual census campaigns show reductions in groupers' abundance and a sharp population decline of the Brazilian endemic parrotfish Scarus trispinosus. Despite the marked decline of these fisheries, younger and less experienced fishermen recognized fewer species as overexploited and fishing sites as depleted than older and more experienced fishermen, indicating the occurrence of the shifting baseline syndrome. Here we show both the decline of multigear fisheries catches – combining anecdotal and scientific data – as well as changes in environmental perceptions over generations of fishermen. Managing ocean resources requires looking into the past, and into traditional knowledge, bringing historical baselines to the present and improving public awareness.