‘Our Tables Have Suffered’: Quantifying consumer market activity of commercially valuable living resources in Chesapeake Bay, 1850-1950
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Once the most productive and economically important estuary in the US, Chesapeake Bay remains in poor condition after years of over-harvesting and pollutant run-off. The objective of this study was to quantify the demand and supply of historically important commercial species and their decline and/or withdrawal from food markets for periods prior to the 1950 establishment of NOAA fisheries catch data. We examined data sources, including historical newspapers, price current lists, and menus to capture market trends of seven important species: Diamondback terrapin, Canvasback duck, American shad, Striped bass, Bluefish, Blue crab, and oysters. Increases in market values were observed between 1850 and 1950 for all species. The prices of terrapin and Canvasback escalated dramatically during the early 1900s as these items grew in restaurant popularity. These two items all but disappeared from markets and menus with the passing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and Volstead Act of 1920. The market for Shad climaxed between 1910 – 1920 before stock declines, dam engineering, and pollution reduced these fish from markets in the region. Bluefish, Striped Bass, and Blue crab fisheries remain relatively healthy but have all shown cyclical declines over this period. Oyster prices have remained steady with the national inflation rate; however, menu prices have steadily increased steadily since the 1950s. This study, the first of its kind, demonstrates the utility of menu and market prices for reconstructing consumer-driven market behaviors of commercially valuable species for periods prior NOAA databases: an important tool in determining pre-disturbed natural baselines.
Carter, Joshua (2013). ‘Our Tables Have Suffered’: Quantifying consumer market activity of commercially valuable living resources in Chesapeake Bay, 1850-1950. Honors and Undergraduate Research. Available electronically from