Posts Tagged CFOOD

Mar 25 2016

CFOOD: Molly Lutcavage’s Atlantic Tuna Findings Should be Embraced, Not Discredited as Industry Spin

— Posted with permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM. Please do not republish without their permission. —

Copyright © 2016

Seafood News



Dr. Molly Lutcavage wrote a piece last week on Medium titled, Environmental Bullies, how conservation ideologues attack scientists who don’t agree with them. Though a summary follows, we encourage you all to read the article.

Lutcavage discusses her paper published this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that has been making headlines in NPR, but also on smaller online platforms (like Medium).

The paper presents evidence for a new spawning ground for Western Atlantic bluefin tuna that may suggest the species matures earlier and may be more resilient to harvesting than previously thought. The authors suggest that earlier age at maturity and additional spawning grounds likely means the stock biomass and sustainable exploitation rate are both higher than previously thought. Carl Safina and others have painted this finding as “controversial.”

Dr. Lutcavage maintains this “news” should not have been considered controversial. As long ago as the early 1990’s Lutcavage and other scientists working with the New England Aquarium had counted up to one hundred thousand adult bluefin tuna from spotter planes, a total much higher than other estimates of the total stock size. Such findings contradicted Safina and his 1992 push to have Atlantic bluefin listed as Appendix I endangered because as he has said, bluefin is like, “the last buffalo, on the brink of extinction.”

Dr. Lutcavage felt Safina and other NGOs like Pew Oceans have maligned her and her peers for their research because it would, “get in the way of fund-raising campaigns, messages to the media, book sales, rich donors, and perhaps the most insidious – attempts to influence US fisheries and ocean policies.”

Comment by John Sibert, an emeritus professor at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii.

I, like many other scientists, practice my profession with the expectation that my work will be used to improve management policies. However, scientists who choose to work on subjects that intersect with management of natural resources sometimes become targets of special interest pressures. Pressure to change or “spin” research results occurs more often than it should. Pressure arrives in many forms— usually as phone calls from colleagues, superiors, or the media; the pressure seldom arrives in writing.

I have had a long career spanning several fields and institutions and have been pressured to change my views on restriction of industrial activities in intertidal zones in estuaries, on the necessity of international tuna fisheries management agencies, on the limited role of commercial fishing in the deterioration of marine turtle populations, on the lack of accuracy and reliability of electronic fish tags, and on the inefficacy of marine protected areas for tuna conservation.

My most recent experience with pressure came from a stringer who writes for Science magazine. Some colleagues and I had just published a paper that analyzed area-based fishery management policies for conservation of bigeye tuna. Although the paper was very pessimistic about the use of MPAs for tuna fishery management, this particular stringer contacted me about MPAs. We had an exchange of emails in which he repeatedly tried to spin some earlier results on median lifetime displacements of skipjack and yellowfin tuna into an argument supporting creation of MPAs. We then made an appointment to talk “face to face” via Skype. His approach was to play word games with my replies to his questions in order to make it seem that my research supported MPAs. I repeatedly explained to him that our research showed that closing high-seas pockets had no effect whatsoever on the viability of tuna populations and that empirical evidence showed that the closure of the western high seas pockets in 2008 had in fact increased tuna catches. We hung up at that point, and I have no idea what he wrote for Science.

When critics run out of fact, some resort to personal attack. During discussions about turtle conservation in the early 2000s, an attorney for an environmental group told a committee of scientists that we were in effect a bunch of fishing industry apologists with no knowledge of turtles or population dynamics. More recently, my friend and collaborator, Molly Lutcavage was recently subject of a personal attack by Carl Safina after she and her colleagues published an important discovery of a new spawning area for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. This discovery ought to push the International Commission of the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna to abandon its simplistic two stock approach to management of ABFT. (Whether ICCAT will actually change its approach is another question.) Safina made the outrageously false assertion that the authors’ “… main concern is not recovery, not conservation, but how their findings can allow additional exploitation.” Instead of attacking the messenger and implying that Lutcavage and her colleagues are industry tools, Safina should have embraced the science, supported tuna conservation, and applied pressure in ICCAT to change its antiquated management. By attempting to smear Lutcavage and her NOAA colleagues, he demeans science in general and those of us who try to apply scientific approaches to resource management in particular.

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Dec 27 2015

Dr. Ray Hilborn Responds to NPR: Not All Global Fish Stocks in Decline

 December 22, 2015 — In a commentary published by CFOOD, Dr. Ray Hilborn, Professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington and author of the book Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know,addresses claims made by a recent NPR story that global fish stocks are in decline. According to Dr. Hilborn,the opposite is true for many important global fisheries: stocks in Europe, the United States, Russia, and Japan are actually increasing, while stocks in Australia and parts of Canada remain stable.
Fish Stocks Are Declining Worldwide, And Climate Change Is On The Hook.

This is the title of a recent NPR posting — again perpetuating a myth that most fish stocks are declining.


Let’s look at the basic question: are fish stocks declining? We know a lot about the status of fish stocks in some parts of the world, and very little about the trends in others. We have good data for most developed countries and the major high seas tuna fisheries. These data are assembled and compiled in the RAM Legacy Stock Assessment database, available to the public at This database contains trends in abundance for fish stocks comprising about 40% of the global fish catch and includes the majority of stocks from Europe, North America, Japan, Russia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Major fisheries of the world that are not in the data base are primarily in S. and SE Asia.
The figure below shows the trend in abundance of fish stocks in these different regions.
Clearly not all fish stocks are declining; they are increasing in the Atlantic Ocean (tuna fisheries), European fisheries, both EU (recent increases), and non-EU (Iceland and Norway), Russia and Japan, and US East Coast, Southeast and Gulf, and US West coast.


Fish stocks in recent years are stable in Australia, Canadian East Coast, South Africa, and Alaska.
We do see long term declines in Canada’s West Coast, the Indian Ocean (tuna fisheries), New Zealand, Pacific Ocean (tuna fisheries) and South America. A characteristic of each of these regions is that they are late developing fisheries, the Pacific and Indian oceans didn’t see wide scale industrial fishing until much later than the Atlantic Ocean and the decline seen is part of the process of developing new fisheries and is planned. The fish stocks in these regions are healthy as very few of these fish stocks are overfished.


For the places we don’t have good data (Africa and Asia), what we do know suggests those areas are seeing significant declines in abundance.


So clearly not all fish stocks are in decline-the pattern depends on the region. We can see from the above graph that with good fisheries management, stocks can recover. The NPR story got the big picture wrong, it isn’t climate change that is on the hook, it is the presence of effective fisheries management that determines the trend in abundance of fish stocks.


The scientific paper on which the NPR story was produced was much more subtle and did not say that fish stocks were decline – that was invented by the authors of the NPR story. The paper estimated that the recruitment potential of the fisheries was declining, specifically that the number of 1 year old fish per adult fish showed a decline in many regions of the world. Interestingly, the paper identified the N. Atlantic as the region of most concern, but when we look at abundance data, the N. Atlantic is the place we see the most stock rebuilding.


The number of 1 year old produced is known as recruitment, and the original paper used the data in the RAM Legacy Stock Assessment database to estimate these trends. The statistics used in the original paper are complex, but we can look quite simply at the trends in recruitment – not the recruitment per spawning adult as done in the paper.
This graph shows the recruitment trend for all stocks in the RAM Legacy Stock Assessment database, with blue the trend if all stocks given the same weight, and red with large stocks giving much more weight. The size of the dots or squares shows the relative number of stocks for which we have data in each year. We do see a clear trend in recruitment decline, with perhaps 10 or 15% decline over the 40 years of available data.


Is this decline in recruitment due to climate change? That is one possibility, but it is also possibly due to stocks being fished to lower abundance over that time as seen in the first graph. However, regardless of the reason, this decline is small and fish stocks can easily rebuild if good fisheries management is put in place.


Read the commentary from Dr. Hilborn at CFOOD
Oct 7 2015

Global Fisheries Scientists set up ‘Truth Squad’ to Counter Inaccurate Scientific Claims in Media

— Posted with permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM. Please do not republish without their permission. —

Copyright © 2015

Seafood News

Too often false statements about fisheries go unchallenged in the media.  Many NGOs trumpet their conclusions about fisheries crisises, but don’t always explain how they get their ‘facts.’

Their media partners lap up stories of doom and collapse, often uncritically.  For that reason, a group of  International experts in fisheries management have come together as part of a new initiative, called CFOOD (Collaborative for Food from Our Oceans Data.) The coalition will gather data from around the world and maintain fisheries databases while ensuring seafood sustainability discussions in the media reflect ground-truth science.

The scientists behind the project have long pushed for accurate and clean data sources on the world’s fisheries.

The CFOOD project, headquartered at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (SAFS), is made up of a network of scientists whose mission stemmed from a frustration with erroneous and agenda-driven stories about fisheries sustainability in the media. The CFOOD project will maintain a website and social media channels that provide a forum for immediate feedback on new seafood sustainability reports and studies.

“The CFOOD website allows us to offer independent scientific commentary to debunk false claims, support responsible science, or introduce new issues based on recent research,” said Dr. Ray Hilborn, Professor at University of Washington’s SAFS and founder of the CFOOD initiative.

“The ocean is a remarkably abundant source of healthy protein,” said Hilborn. “And while sustainability challenges exist, particularly in areas lacking sufficient fishery management infrastructure, many fisheries around the world are well-managed and sustainable. The message doesn’t always seem to resonate with consumers because of misinformation they continue to hear in the media.”

By reviewing and providing scientific analysis on relevant studies, papers, and media reports the CFOOD network hopes to use science to set the record straight for consumers, so they can have confidence the seafood they purchase is harvested in an environmentally responsible fashion.

Other scientists on the editorial board for CFOOD include Robert Arlinghaus, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries and Humboldt at Universität zu Berlin; Kevern Cochrane, FAO Retired, Cape Town, South Africa; Stephen Hall, World Fish Center, Penang, Malaysia; Olaf Jensen, Rutgers University; Michel Kaiser, Bangor University, UK; Ana Parma, CONICET Puerto Madryn, Argentina; Tony Smith, Hobart, Australia; Nobuyuki Yagi, Tokyo University.

“Exaggerated claims of impending ecological disaster might grab attention, but they risk distorting effort and resources away from more critical issues.  I hope this initiative will help provide the balance we need,” said Dr. Stephen Hall, Director General, World Fish Center, based in Malaysia.

The first set of comments on the CFOOD website debunks a WWF paper claiming a 74% decline in global mackerel and tuna species.  The scientists point out that the data used to support that conclusion is out of date, having not been updated since 2004, and that more robust data sources, such as the actual stock assessments of tuna and mackerel stocks around the world were not used by the WWF in creating their estimate.  We explore the comments in depth in our related story.

To connect with the scientists, you can use twitter, facebook, or their website.

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John Sackton, Editor and Publisher

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