The Northern Adriatic Sea (NAS) is one of the most overexploited marine ecosystems in Europe. It presents the lowest probability of being sustainable fished and more than 90% of its marine resources are depleted.

Given the gaps in scientific knowledge regarding the NAS this study sought Fishers’ Ecological Knowledge (FEK) to determine NAS’ historical baselines for conservation. By interviewing 53 fishers in three ports of northern Italy, estimates of the catch rates of four commercial demersal species were generated over a 60-year period, and perceptions of target and non-target species’ diversity and benthic diversity were analysed in three groups of fishers (i.e., novices, experienced and veterans).

The obtained results showed a significant decline in perceived abundance of sole (Solea solea), common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) and mantis shrimp (Squilla mantis), and evidence was found of a Shifting Baseline Syndrome* among novices.

The authors conclude that given FEK’s ability to complement scientific knowledge, fishers’ participation in marine management policies and intergenerational communication should be enhanced, to improve the status of marine ecosystems and hinder Shifting Baseline Syndrome.

*The erroneous perception of a current biological system due to the invalid information of its past conditions.

Veneroni & Fernades (2021) Fisher’s knowledge detects ecological decay in the Mediterranean Sea. Ambio 50: 1159-1171.