Abstract: Human activities are increasingly impacting coastal environments and wildlife, yet until recently, changes that occurred more than a few decades ago were rarely taken into account in fisheries management. My research attempts to reset some of these baselines by focusing upon changes to marine environments since the rise of industrial fishing during the mid-19th century. During my PhD I endeavoured to reconstruct the history of past UK marine environments using 19th century witness testimonies, nautical charts, fisheries surveys, archival and fisheries data to determine the extent of change to marine communities. Witness testimonies from fishers during the 1860s and 1880s provided information on the early impacts of bottom trawling upon marine habitats as trawling expanded throughout UK coastal environments. Data sets of demersal fish landings from the 1880s to the present day revealed that the UK fishing fleet now has to work 17 times harder to catch the same quantity of fish today compared to 120 years ago, a trend that has been masked by improving technology. Early surveys and charts showed that populations of native oysters, a prolific fishery throughout the UK since the Roman era, were extirpated from many sites prior to the 20th century as a result of human impacts. I hope to use these examples to show the importance of incorporating historical data into current management in order to set appropriate targets for sustainable use and restoration.
Biography: Ruth graduated from the University of Liverpool, UK in 2004 with a degree in Marine Biology. In 2006, she undertook a Masters of Science at the University of York, where her dissertation on historical changes to marine communities of the Firth of Clyde, southwest Scotland, helped her realise that it was possible to combine a love of history with a passion for marine ecology. This led to a PhD under the supervision of Prof Callum Roberts and Dr Julie Hawkins at the University of York, examining changes to the UK’s marine environment from the 1800s to the present day. Ruth’s PhD investigated broad-scale changes to UK demersal fish and shellfish communities and fishers’ perceptions of change during the period of industrial expansion of bottom-trawl fisheries. Her aim was to uncover the extent of changes that have occurred to marine communities over the past 150-200 years in order to help inform fishery management decisions made today. Since September 2011, Ruth has been working at the University of Queensland, Australia, in Prof John Pandolfi’s lab, focusing upon historical changes to Australian fisheries.