24 October 2005

decline and fish of the Roman empire

I'll have the fish, thanks
US restaurant menu prices back 150 years, for instance, chart sometimes inexplicable swings in tastes and prices of seafood including swordfish, lobster, abalone, oysters, halibut, haddock and sole.

'Back in the 1860s no one wanted to eat lobster,' says Professor Glenn Jones, a researcher at Texas A&M University at Galveston, who leads the menu project. Giant lobsters weighing 9 kilograms were common in New England.

Considered a trash food in colonial times, a lobster meal cost about US$5 in the 1880s before surging to about US$25 in the 1920s, roughly matching 2005 levels, after it became a delicacy and stocks suffered.

Food was so scarce for the Pilgrim Fathers in the 1620s that they lamented they sometimes had to feed the spiny crustacean to guests. Servants in colonial times negotiated contracts to limit lobster meals to two a week.

And the size and number of huge vats used by the ancient Romans to make a popular fish soup indicate that they were overfishing many Mediterranean species 2000 years ago, even though human populations were a fraction of 21st century levels.

'The Romans ate fish in vast quantities,' Holm says. 'Overfishing in medieval Europe was a very real problem in the days of William the Conqueror and Leonardo da Vinci.

'The impacts of early fisheries on pristine stocks can be quite severe,' he says.

Concentrations of small fish bones found in some Medieval rubbish dumps by the North Sea indicate that the big fish had already been caught and stocks were suffering.

Is it really rocket science that over-fishing causes depletion?

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