4/8/10 Once, on both sides of the Atlantic, fish such as salmon, eels, and, shad were abundant and played an important role in society, feeding millions and providing a livelihood for tens of thousands. But as these fish have steadily dwindled, humans have lost sight of their significance, with each generation accepting a diminished environment as the new norm.
Today, most people in the U.S. and Europe are scarcely aware that eels, wild Atlantic salmon, shad, and alewives — once-vital sources of food and employment — are no longer a part of their ordinary experience.
Eels were widely consumed by Europeans and Americans in the 1800s and were often featured on holiday tables. And salmon once ran inland in countless numbers, providing sport and food; today, only a few hundred wild salmon remain in the eastern U.S., migrating up a handful of rivers in Maine to spawn.
Every generation takes the natural environment it encounters during childhood as the norm against which it measures environmental decline later in life. With each ensuing generation, environmental degradation generally increases, but each generation takes that degraded condition as the new normal. Scientists call this phenomenon “shifting baselines” or “inter-generational amnesia,” and it is part of a larger and more nebulous reality — the insidious ebbing of the ecological and social relevancy of declining and disappearing species.