Nov 4 2015

Hilborn Says Newsweek Article “May Set a New Record for Factual Errors”

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Copyright © 2015

Seafood News

November 3, 2015

Dr. Ray Hilborn, Professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, takes issue with Newsweek’s August 9, 2015 article “Our Taste for ‘Aquatic Bushmeat’ Is Killing the Sea” and its bleak picture of the state of worldwide seafood.

The article quotes Dr. Sylvia Earle, a former chief scientist at NOAA and now a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.

The article incorrectly claimed that 90 percent of global stocks had been removed in the last half-century and that 90 percent of the worlds stocks were unsustainably harvested. The latter statement was corrected to 29 percent after CFOOD staff pointed out the error.

CFOOD is a coalition of fisheries scientists from around the world who are correcting inaccuracies about stock abundance, management measures, and global ocean status. They back up their corrections with scientific data. Their website lists myths “that won’t go away” and corrects them. For example, there are summaries of global stock assessments that show that stocks will not collapse by 2048, 70 percent of the world’s fish are not overfished, and we are not fishing down the food chain, among others.

Newsweek writer Douglas Main referred to a 2003 report that estimated large fish populations (three species of tuna) had crashed worldwide based primarily on catch per unit of effort, now considered a biased metric to gauge abundance.

The 2003 report was repeatedly refuted in subsequent scientific papers. By 2011, a correct estimate of 28.8 percent of fish stocks were considered fished at a biologically unsustainable level.

“The graph below shows the trend in the number of stocks overfished according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,” wrote Hilborn. It shows that after rising steeply between 1970 and 1990, the rate of increase in overfishing rapidly declined, and total overfishing is now stands at 28.8% of global stocks.

Hilborn pointed out that Newsweek’s article repeated the often rebutted statement that 90 percent of the large fish of the ocean were gone by 1980.

“Yet again the author and Dr. Earle don’t seem to have read the scientific literature or have conducted any due diligence with respect to the facts in the article. Certainly those stocks declined from 1950 to 2005 but they were mostly not overfished and the declines were a natural part of newly developing fisheries,” says Hilborn.

“In fact, in many places of the world overfishing is disappearing and stocks are increasing. Cod in most of the North Atlantic are coming back, and Atlantic bluefin tuna is increasing rapidly.

“The idea that on the whole global fisheries are not sustainably managed is out and out wrong,” Hillborn wrote. “In many places such as North America, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, and Norway fisheries are sustainably managed.”

Overfishing that has occurred is now declining in many countries including the European Union members, Chile, Peru, South African, Japan and Argentina.

“Certainly there are many fisheries in the world that need better management, but we must understand where and why some stocks are overfished and this requires good science,” Hilborn said.

Earle admonished people who don’t think about what kind of fish they eat or where it is from. “This kind of traceability is hard to achieve,” Hilborn points out, especially in areas where regulations are lax and fishing is strong, such as parts of Asia and Africa.

“Dr. Earle is an advocate for minimizing human impacts on the ocean but and has frequently argued that we should not fish at all. This is despite the fact that fish provide essential nutrition and employment for many of the world’s poorest people.

“The challenge is to assure that all of the worlds fisheries are sustainable and totally incorrect statements are no help in achieving this goal,” Hilborn said.


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