Ocean Currents

Slideshow: Yesterday’s Ocean: A History of Marine Life on California’s Central Coast

© Marc Shargel

Prolific underwater photographer Marc Shargel has released a new publication on California’s sea life: “Yesterday’s Ocean: A History of Marine Life on California’s Central Coast.” Using present-day images and archival photographs, this booklet tells the story of Central California’s boom-and-bust relationship with ocean fisheries over the past three centuries.

As fishermen in the past discovered, the ocean is not without its limits. In “Yesterday’s Ocean,” Shargel shows that after short, intense periods of exploitation, stocks of otters, abalone and sardines became much harder to find. As one species was depleted, another was targeted.

This pattern came to characterize many of California’s Central Coast fisheries, eventually leading to the spectacular crash of the sardine fishery in the late 1940s. The story told in “Yesterday’s Ocean” perfectly illustrates the tragedy of the commons: left unchecked, fishermen exploited species after species until each had collapsed.

Ocean Conservancy has made great strides to ensure that Pacific Ocean ecosystems receive the protection they need. In California, after years of hard work, the state finished implementing a statewide network of 124 marine protected areas in 2012.

Taking it one step further, at our urging, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council recently adopted an informal Fisheries Ecosystem Plan to manage fish stocks using ecosystem-based management. This is a critical first step in improving fisheries management in the region because the plan looks at entire ecosystems instead of just one fish at a time.

If there is one thing we can learn from the boom-and-bust cycles of the Central Coast’s fisheries, it is the time-honored lesson that those who do not learn from the past are bound to repeat it.

Fisheries managers are facing tough decisions now that will determine the future health of our local marine life, from tiny herring to giant white sharks. The history lesson found in “Yesterday’s Ocean” can serve as motivation for getting it right.

For more on “Yesterday’s Ocean,” check out this Thank You Ocean interview with Marc Shargel:

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