May 12 2016

Greenpeace Attacks Ray Hilborn as ‘Overfishing Denier’ as He Receives Major Int. Science Prize

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After suffering a series of defeats in which US government Science bodies demolished Greenpeace claims of overfishing and habitat destruction in US waters, Greenpeace has turned on Univ. of Washington Professor Ray Hilborn. Hilborn is the foremost scientific advocate of fisheries stability and has contributed to worldwide understanding that when fisheries quotas and habitat protections are enforced, stocks recover and can be fished sustainably.

Greenpeace lost a major battle and public relations campaign recently over Bering Sea Corals when a huge scientific effort undertaken by NOAA decisively showed the claims of habitat destruction by Greenpeace were unfounded. This embarrassed Greenpeace in front of its retail partners— to whom it had described the Bering Sea Coral campaign in apocalyptic terms as a do or die mission to preserve the Bering Sea.

In two weeks, Prof. Hilborn will receive the International Fisheries Science Prize at the World Fisheries Congress in Busan, South Korea. This prize is awarded every four years by a consortium of international fisheries science organizations.

The award to Prof. Hilborn is in recognition of the profound impact he has had in a 40-year career where he has applied research and scientific investigation to the ever-changing problems of fisheries management and conservation.

Hilborn has been the leading voice that has changed public and government perception that overfishing was an environmental disaster that could not be controlled. instead he and his colleagues have documented time and again where fisheries management is successful and have compiled the most detailed global database on fish stocks and catch history to show that in many of the developed areas of the world, fisheries sustainability has been achieved.

This message is anathema to Greenpeace, whose fisheries activism depends on maintaining a continuous atmosphere of crisis.

The latest attack is a letter to the University of Washington questioning the funding Ray Hilborn has received from 2003 to January 2016.

Greenpeace tries to smear Hilborn with the same charges used against Climate Science deniers, who have concealed funding sources in published papers. The difference is 1) that Hilborn represents mainstream fisheries science, not radical extremes beyond scientific consensus, and 2) Hilborn fully discloses his financial backing.

Of the $3.55 million in industry funding identified by Greenpeace, over $2 million has gone to support the University of Washington field program in Bristol Bay Alaska, a program that is widely acknowledged to be the premier science program working on salmon ecosystems. This is funded partly by Alaskan CDQ groups.

The best approach is to let Ray speak in his own words. I think most readers will agree with him that this is a sign of desperation on the part of Greenpeace, as Hilborn is successfully countering its message of imminent destruction of all fisheries.

Ray Hilborn:

I would like to thank Greenpeace for offering this opportunity to advertise our research and its results.

Greenpeace is unable to attack the science I and my collaborators do; science that threatens their repeated assertions that overfishing is universal and that the oceans are being emptied. On the contrary, it is clear that where effective fisheries management is applied, stocks are increasing not declining, and this is true in North American and Europe as well as a number of other places. Overfishing certainly continues to be a problem in the Mediterranean, much of Asia and Africa.

This prize is awarded every four years by fisheries science organizations from a number of countries including the U. S., Australia and Japan. In my plenary address I will be showing where overfishing is declining or largely eliminated, as well as where it remains a problem. This is a message Greenpeace seeks to discredit.

Instead of focusing on the science, Greenpeace has alleged that I failed to disclose “large amounts of money from the fishing industry and other corporate interests. ”

The essential issue is conflict of interest. Greenpeace seems to believe that industry funding is tantamount to a conflict of interest, regardless of its purpose. Thus, any time I discuss fisheries I would need to disclose each and every grant or contract I have ever received as a conflict of interest. Taking that approach I would also have to disclose funding from all of the environmental NGOs that have also helped to fund our research and education efforts, including the Society for Conservation Biology, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Perhaps I would also need to disclose the numerous private foundations and government agencies that have funded our work every time I discuss fisheries. The list of funders would be as long as some of the papers.

I, like all reputable scientists, take conflict of interest seriously. This is one reason we acknowledge all funders of the research work discussed in each paper at the end of the document.

The other, of course, is to give credit where credit is due. The fishing industry, like environmental NGOs, government agencies, and public and private foundations, are actively involved in funding our research and education efforts that help create and sustain fisheries nationally and globally. In fact, it is in the financial interest of fishing communities and industries to find solutions that are sustainable and provide for healthy stocks into the future. And funding from these groups should be considered part of an inclusive, transparent and honest research process.

According to Greenpeace’s calculations, industry funding constitutes 22% of the research funds received by the University of Washington to support research and education efforts I lead. Those monies support staff and students and pay for field expenses.

During the period Greenpeace collected data on my grants and contracts, I received $16.1 million in research funding, of which Greenpeace classified $3.5 million as industry.

The top three “industry” groups they list are community groups in small Alaskan communities where fishing is the source of survival. These are not big industrial interests but small communities.

Of the total industry funding, over $2 million has supported our field program in Bristol Bay Alaska, a program that is widely acknowledged to be the premier science program working on salmon ecosystems.

Fisheries issues are contentious because natural resources are limited, directly affect the lives of many, and everybody has, or wants, a stake. My belief is that all voices need to be heard, and all stakeholders need to be at the table.


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