IJMS Editor’s Choice – Marine historical ecology: placing marine environmental history in current policy context

A selected Editor’s Choice article from the latest issue of the ICES Journal of Marine Science is now freely available. Here, read about the emerging discipline of marine historical ecology (MHE).
Published: 15 December 2015

​​​​​​​​​​​​Marine historical ecology is a science that takes a long-term view on ​the planet's seas and oceans, with particular emphasis on the human impact on the environment over scales from decades to millennia. The field brings together fisheries scientists, historians, archaeologists, climatologists, social scientists and those working in other disciplines, and has greatly improved our understanding of the past state of marine ecosystems.

​This paper, however, d​emonstrates that marine historical ecology is not just about a better understanding of what happened a long time ago; in contrast, the field can significantly contribute to present-day, long-term management of marine ecosystems, not only for conservation but also for the sustainable exploitation of marine living resources. In several cases, a demonstrable positive impact has already been made; in other cases there is potential to make a real difference to marine management, although true 'uptake' by policy has not yet been consistently achieved.​

The relevance of marine historical ecology to policy is highlighted in the study through thirteen case studies from around the world. These were brought together by a team of scientists, many of them participants in the ICES Working Group on the History of Fish and Fisheries (WGHIST)​, of which the paper is a direct output. The work was also presented during the Oceans Past V Symposium in Tallinn, Estonia ​in May this year, and is the concluding article in the special proceedings issue of ICES Journal of Marine Science, which includes a portfolio of papers presented during the symposium.​​​​​

The paper is aiming to counter the 'shifting baseline syndrome' - the phenomenon ​​​of the differing perception from generation to generation of ecological change, as ecosystems move away from their natural states. It also aims to draw attention to its mission statement, asking for a future where "MHE scientists will increasingly 'think policy' so that their work might more readily make a difference, and where policy-makers will increasingly 'think MHE' in support of long-term marine conservation and sustainable resource use."​

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Boats at Lowestoft harbour early 20th century

The bustling fishing port of Lowestoft in the early 20th century. Rich fish and fisheries data were collected here. Marine historical ecology looks at old data, applies new methods, and aims at understanding the past as well as providing knowledge to support current and future marine management – in line with Sir Winston Churchill’s quote: “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”; © Crown Copyright CEFAS​

​Article title: ICES meets marine historical ecology: placing the history of fish and fisheries in current policy context

Authors: Georg H. Engelhard, Ruth H. Thurstan, Brian R. MacKenzie, Heidi K. Alleway, R. Colin A. Bannister1, Massimiliano Cardinale, Maurice W. Clarke, Jock C. Currie, Tomaso Fortibuoni, Poul Holm, Sidney J. Holt, Carlotta Mazzoldi, John K. Pinnegar, Saša Raicevich, Filip A. M. Volckaert, Emily S. Klein, and Ann-Katrien Lescrauwaet​​
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IJMS Editor’s Choice – Marine historical ecology: placing marine environmental history in current policy context

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