Posts Tagged Ray Hilborn

Oct 25 2017

Testimony of Ray Hilborn to U.S. Senate subcommittee

Testimony of Ray Hilborn to U.S. Senate subcommittee.



Subcommittee to Continue Hearing Series on Magnuson-Stevens Act

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, will convene the hearing titled “Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act: Fisheries Science,” at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 24, 2017. The hearing is the fourth of the series and will focus on the state of our nation’s fisheries and the science that supports sustainable management.


– Mr. Karl Haflinger, Founder and President, Sea State, Inc
– Dr. Ray Hilborn, Professor, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences
– Dr. Michael Jones, Professor, Michigan State University Quantitative Fisheries Center
– Dr. Larry McKinney, Director, Texas A&M University Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies

Hearing Details:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017
2:30 p.m.
Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard

This hearing will take place in Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on

Oct 23 2017

Professor has a message for Congress: Overfishing is over

Rob Hotakainen, E&E News reporter
Published: Monday, October 23, 2017
Ray Hilborn. Photo credit: University of Washington

Fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn. University of Washington


To his detractors, fisheries professor Ray Hilborn is an “overfishing denier,” a scientist who’s all too eager to accept money from industry groups to pay for his pro-fishing research.

To his backers, he’s a hero, a respected researcher who can always be counted on to challenge environmental groups that want to limit fishing.

Love him or hate him, there’s little doubt that the outspoken Hilborn has attained an international profile and that he has found a way to win big-time attention in fishing circles.

His next stop is Capitol Hill.

Tomorrow, Hilborn, a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington, will appear before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation panel, getting another chance to argue his case that overfishing is no longer a concern for the United States.

He’s one of four experts scheduled to testify before the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.

“What I’m going to say in my testimony is that overfishing is no longer the major threat to the sustainability of our oceans or biodiversity,” Hilborn said in an interview. “My first line on Tuesday is going to be that we have really fixed our fisheries by having fisheries management follow science advice — and if you stop doing that, you’re in trouble.”

Hilborn also said it’s time to stop “vilifying” fishing.

“I wrote the book on overfishing, called ‘Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know,’ by Oxford University Press,” Hilborn said. “You know, overfishing is a serious problem in many places. It’s not a very serious problem in the United States now. It was 30 years ago. … And the U.S. has responded, as has Europe. In most developed countries, fish stocks are increasing in abundance, they are not declining in abundance.”

The question of overfishing is a key focus for Congress as lawmakers consider making changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a law passed in 1976 that sets the rules for fishing in federal waters (E&E Daily, July 17).

Backers and opponents alike credit the landmark law for improving the health of U.S. fish stocks, though many worry the Trump administration has moved too quickly to allow more fishing.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees NOAA, heightened those concerns with two key decisions: In June, he extended the season for the Gulf red snapper by 39 days, and in July, he overturned a decision by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission that would have cut New Jersey’s recreational quota for summer flounder, also known as fluke (Greenwire, Sept. 20).

Critics fear Ross’ decisions could lead to overfishing and jeopardize both fish stocks in the long run.

Meanwhile, the president’s fisheries chief, Chris Oliver, told a House Natural Resources panel last month that 91 percent of all fishing stocks assessed by NOAA are no longer subject to overfishing.

Oliver, the head of NOAA Fisheries, told the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans that the U.S. had “effectively ended overfishing,” allowing “room for flexibility” in applying annual catch limits (E&E Daily, Sept. 27).

Those are fighting words for many conservationists who worry the Trump team has already gone overboard in bowing to the demands of fishing groups.

“When they talk about flexibility, they’re really talking about rollbacks,” said John Hocevar, a marine biologist and ocean campaigns director for Greenpeace USA.
An ideal spokesman?

Hilborn has plenty of fans, but he has faced accusations of industry bias.

Last year, he won the International Fisheries Science Prize at the World Fisheries Congress in Busan, South Korea, recognized for a 40-year-career of “highly diversified research” on behalf of global fisheries science and conservation.

“There aren’t many fisheries scientists in the country who can match Ray Hilborn,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “He’s the ideal spokesman for his field to educate Congress about how science informs fisheries management. Anyone who questions Ray’s professional or scientific integrity doesn’t understand how science works, at best.”

But a study by Greenpeace last year found that Hilborn accepted more than $3.55 million from 69 commercial fishing and seafood interests to pay for his research from 2003 to 2015.

“It seems like he uses his genuine scientific credentials to make himself more valuable to industry as a spokesperson,” said Hocevar. “On climate denial, there are a bunch of those guys. But with fisheries, Hilborn is the guy. … He’s the go-to, and there’s really no one else out there like him who will come out and talk about how we don’t need marine protected areas and how the real problem is underfishing, not overfishing.”

Greenpeace gained access to University of Washington documents that showed Hilborn’s long and extensive links to fishing, seafood and other corporate groups by filing a request under the state’s public records law.

After Greenpeace complained that Hilborn had not properly disclosed his affiliations in all his published papers, the university investigated the issue and concluded Hilborn had not violated any of its policies.

But Hocevar said the issue is still relevant.

“He took millions of dollars from industry. … And studies have shown that where you get your funding from does create bias in terms of findings,” Hocevar said.

Hilborn dismissed the criticism from Greenpeace.

“You know, they’re hopeless fundamentally,” he said. “They’re basically a money-raising organization, and they have to scare people to raise money. They’re not interested in science at all. … Greenpeace has sort of put its cards on the table that fishing is a big deal, and they’re not going to raise money if people don’t believe that fishing is a threat.”

Schedule: The hearing is Tuesday, Oct. 24, at 2:30 p.m. in 253 Russell.

Witnesses: Karl Haflinger, founder and president, Sea State Inc.; Ray Hilborn, professor, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; Michael Jones, professor, Michigan State University Quantitative Fisheries Center; and Larry McKinney, director, Texas A&M University Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.

Originally published: E&E Daily

Jun 13 2017



June 12, 2017 — Speaking at the SeaWeb Seafood Summit on Wednesday, 7 June in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., University of Washington fisheries researcher Ray Hilborn said the perception that the world’s fish stocks are declining is incorrect, and that fishing could sustainably be stepped up in areas with good management.

Hilborn pointed to figures from the RAM Legacy Stock Assessment Database that indicate that fish stocks dipped through the last part of the 20th century, but have since recovered in many fisheries.

“There is a very broad perception that fish stocks around the world are declining. Many news coverages in the media will always begin with ‘fish stocks in the world are declining.’ And this simply isn’t true. They are increasing in many places and in fact, globally, the best assessments are that fish stocks are actually stable and probably increasing on average now,” Hilborn said.

The RAM Legacy Database collects information on all the stocks in the world that have been scientifically assessed, which is a little more than half of the world’s catch.

“What we don’t really know about is the big fisheries in Asia, in the sense that we don’t have scientific assessments of the trends in abundance,” Hilborn said.

He added that the general consensus is that the status of those stocks is poor, a result of, among other things, poor fisheries management, reinforcing surveys that have shown a direct correlation between high stock abundance and high intensity of management.

“For most of the developed world fisheries’ management is quite intense, and South and Southeast Asia stand out as really not having much in the way of fisheries’ management systems, particularly any form a enforcement of regulations, if regulations exists,” he said.

But in much of the developed world, Hilborn said fish stocks are robust, even when they sometimes get labeled as overfished.

“Overfished is a definition with respect to potential yield, and a stock that is overfished is not necessarily a stock that is going extinct or a stock that has in any sense collapsed. It simply means you’re getting less yield from that stock than you could get if was well-managed,” Hilborn added.

Hilborn generally recommends lower fishing pressure that does not try to maximize sustainable yield, with a potential of up to 20 percent loss on yield. But he added that even this level of fishing will lead to overfished stocks.

“If you really want to have no overfished stocks, you’re going to have to reduce fishing pressure so far that we would probably lose half of the global food production,” Hilborn said.

Originally posted at Seafood Source

Apr 4 2017

Predators may be less affected by catch of small fish than previously thought, new study says

Previous studies overlooked key factors in recommending lower catch of forage fish

Click here to watch the authors of the study discuss their findings, which suggest that previous research overstated the impact of fishing forage fish on their predators.

WASHINGTON (NCFC) – April 3, 2017 – New research published today in the journal Fisheries Research finds that fishing of forage species likely has a lower impact on predators than previously thought, challenging previous studies that argued forage fish are more valuable left in the ocean.

A team of seven respected fisheries scientists, led by Prof. Ray Hilborn, Ph.D., of the University of Washington, found that predator populations are less dependent on specific forage fish species than assumed in previous studies, most prominently in a 2012 study commissioned by the Lenfest Ocean Program, which is managed by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force argued that forage fish are twice as valuable when left in the water to be eaten by predators, and recommended slashing forage fish catch rates by 50 to 80 percent.

For fisheries management, such a precautionary approach would have a large impact on the productivity of forage fisheries. As groups such as IFFO (The Marine Ingredients Organisation) have noted, these stocks contribute strongly to global food security, as well as local and regional social and economic sustainability.

However, the new research found multiple omissions in the methodology of the Lenfest study. “When you review the actual models that were used [by Lenfest], there are a few key elements on the biology of these animals that were not represented,” said Dr. Ricardo Amoroso, one of the study’s co-authors. He added that one of the authors’ approaches was to “look for empirical evidence of what is actually happening in the field.” Previous studies relied on models which took for granted that there should be a strong link between predators and prey.

Specifically, the Lenfest study and another study using ecosystem models ignored the natural variability of forage fish, which often fluctuate greatly in abundance from year to year. It also failed to account for the fact that predators tend to eat smaller forage fish that are largely untouched by fishermen. Because of these oversights, the new study concluded that the Lenfest recommendations were overly broad, and that fisheries managers should consider forage species on a case-by-case basis to ensure sound management.

“It is vital that we manage our fisheries to balance the needs of the ecosystem, human nutrition and coastal communities,” said Andrew Mallison, IFFO Director General. “These findings give fishery managers guidance based on science, and update some of the inaccurate conclusions of previous reports.”

The Lenfest findings were largely based on a model called EcoSim, developed by Dr. Carl J. Walters, one of the co-authors of the new paper. Dr. Walters found that the EcoSim models used in earlier studies had omitted important factors, including natural variability, recruitment limitations and efficient foraging of predators.

Dr. Walters noted that there were “very specific” issues with previous uses of the EcoSim model. “It was predicting much higher sensitivity of creatures at the top of the food webs to fishing down at the bottom than we could see in historical data,” he said.

This is not the first time ecosystem models used in earlier studies have been questioned. One year after the Lenfest study was completed, two of its authors, Dr. Tim Essington and Dr. Éva Plagányi, published a paper in the ICES Journal of Marine Science where they said, “We find that the depth and breadth with which predator species are represented are commonly insufficient for evaluating sensitivities of predator populations to forage fish depletion.” The new study reaffirmed this finding, noting “several reasons to concur with the conclusion that the models used in previous analysis were insufficient.”

In addition to its critiques of previous research, the researchers found further evidence of the lack of fishing impact on forage fish. Their research indicated that environmental factors are often much more important drivers of forage fish abundance. They also found that the distribution of forage fish has a greater impact on predators than simply the raw abundance of forage fish.

The authors concluded by noting the importance of forage fish as a part of human food supply chains, praising their high nutritional value, both through direct human consumption and as food in aquaculture, as well as the low environmental impact of forage fishing. Cutting forage fishing, as recommended by the Lenfest group, would force people to look elsewhere for the healthy protein and micronutrients provided by forage fish – likely at much greater environmental cost, the authors wrote.

“Forage fish provide some of the lowest environmental cost food in the world – low carbon footprint, no water use,” Dr. Hilborn said. “[There are] lots of reasons that forage fish are a really environmentally friendly form of food.”

It is also well-established that forage fisheries provide substantial health benefits to human populations through the supply of long chain omega-3 fatty acids, both directly through consumption in the form of fish oil capsules, and indirectly through animal feed for farmed fish and land animals.

The paper was authored by Dr. Ray Hilborn, Dr. Ricardo O. Amoroso, and Dr. Eugenia Bogazzi from the University of Washington; Dr. Olaf P. Jensen from Rutgers University; Dr. Ana M. Parma from Center for the Study of Marine Systems -CONICET, Argentina; Dr. Cody Szuwalski from the University of California Santa Barbara; and Dr. Carl J. Walters from the University of British Columbia.

Read the full study here

Watch a video about the study here

Read an infographic about the study here
About the NCFC
The National Coalition for Fishing Communities provides a national voice and a consistent, reliable presence for fisheries in the nation’s capital and in national media. Comprised of fishing organizations, associations, and businesses from around the country, the NCFC helps ensure sound fisheries policies by integrating community needs with conservation values, leading with the best science, and connecting coalition members to issues and events of importance. For more, visit

About IFFO
IFFO represents the marine ingredients industry worldwide. IFFO’s members reside in more than 50 countries, account for over 50% of world production and 75% of the fishmeal and fish oil traded worldwide. Approximately 5 million tonnes of fishmeal are produced each year globally, together with 1 million tonnes of fish oil. IFFO’s headquarters are located in London in the United Kingdom and it also has offices in Lima, Peru, and in Beijing, China. IFFO is an accredited Observer to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). To find out more, visit


Jul 14 2016

Ray Hilborn: Sound Fishery Management More Effective Approach Than MPAs to Protect Oceans

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

Copyright © 2016

Seafood News

SEAFOODNEWS.COM Ray Hilborn – July 14,2016

On 1 September, government leaders, directors of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others will meet in Hawaii at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress to discuss environmental and development challenges. Twenty-three NGOs, including the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources Defense Council, are calling on the IUCN to make 30% of the world’s coastal and marine areas fully protected from fishing and other forms of exploitation by 2030.

If this target were achieved, the abundance of exploited species in the areas that are closed off would undoubtedly increase1. It is not clear, however, whether the same would be true for marine biodiversity overall.

There are currently two very different views on the effectiveness of zones where fishing is either banned outright or tightly restricted. Many conservationists see the establishment of these marine protected areas (MPAs) as the only way to protect biodiversity. Others — me included — argue that the protection of biodiversity at sea can include recreational and industrial fishing and other uses of ocean resources. In fact, we think that closing waters to some kinds of fishing gear and restricting the catch of named species can offer much more protection than cordoning off even 30% of an area. We are concerned that MPAs may simply shift fishing pressure elsewhere2.

Opinions are so divided that the conservation expertise of fisheries managers is being left out of national and international drives to protect ocean resources. Likewise, the suite of threats to biodiversity besides fishing, such as from oil exploration, sea-bed mining and ocean acidification, are not being addressed in standard fisheries management.

The seas face myriad problems — climate change, development and the nutritional and other needs of a growing human population. To tackle them, conservationists and those involved in fisheries management must work together and answer to the same governing bodies.

Rise of protection
Calls for MPAs began in earnest during the 1990s, when overfishing was common in most of the developed world and collapses of fish stocks repeatedly made headlines. In the early 2000s, ecologists often assumed that biodiversity could flourish only inside protected areas. One group proposed in 2002, for example, that 40% of the ocean be made reserves, on the assumption that the replenishment of fish populations through reproduction could not happen outside them3.

Most ecologists and conservationists now accept — in theory — that even if as much as 20% of a region were cordoned off from fishing, most of that area’s biodiversity would exist outside the protected zones as long as effective fisheries management was in place. Yet the dominance of MPAs in conservation policy has, if anything, increased since the 2000s.

In the past decade especially, numerous environmental NGOs and conservation-funding groups have taken up MPAs as their preferred tool for ocean protection. Together, the conservation group WWF, Greenpeace and other NGOs have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past ten years lobbying for MPAs around the world. One effect of this was US President Barack Obama adding just over 1 million square kilometres (an area roughly twice the size of Texas) to the US Pacific territories national monument in 2014. Another has been President James Michel of the Seychelles promising to make 412,000 km2 of the Indian Ocean surrounding the islands a totally protected MPA.

MPAs also dominate the scientific literature on marine conservation. Researchers documenting the effects of MPAs on biodiversity, in my view, ignore or underappreciate the benefits of fisheries management. Jane Lubchenco and Kirsten Grorud-Colvert4 for instance, have equated biodiversity protection in the oceans to the establishment of no-take areas, writing: “Even lumping all categories together, only 3.5% of the ocean is protected” and “only 1.6% is ‘strongly’ or ‘fully’ protected.” And in 2014, Carissa Klein and co-authors5 evaluated the degree to which the ranges of more than 17,000 species are contained within MPAs. I interpret this as implying that species whose ranges do not fall within MPAs will be lost, although these authors concede that, for some species, “the best conservation outcome may be achieved with other strategies, including fisheries regulations”.

Management strategies
There are many other useful tools and legal frameworks designed to reduce overfishing, rebuild fish stocks and protect the biodiversity of the oceans. National and international fisheries agencies have been developing and enforcing these for the past two decades.

Problems are identified and tools selected to solve them in what is often a highly participatory process involving many stakeholders. If a certain fishing approach, such as bottom trawling, threatens a habitat, the area can be closed to that type of fishing. If a species is being threatened as a result of being caught unintentionally along with the targeted species, the fishery may be closed, fishing permitted at only certain times of the year, or catching techniques modified to reduce by-catch. Dolphin mortality fell almost 100-fold between 1986 and 1998 in the eastern Pacific6, for instance, after vessels changed fishing practice so that ensnared dolphins were released before the nets were hauled aboard. (The technology was developed by fishermen after the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission instituted limits to dolphin by-catch.)

The United States spends more than US$300 million per year on fisheries management. It does so through the implementation of key pieces of legislation, including the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. In Alaska, for example, more than 50% of the continental shelf waters are closed to specific kinds of fishing gear and the entire shelf is covered by species-specific catch restrictions. This is much more protection than could be offered by turning 30% of the region into MPAs.

Because of fisheries management, overfishing has largely been eliminated in US waters7. The proportion of fish stocks listed as ‘overfished’ — those in which abundance is lower than that needed to produce near-maximum yield — halved between 1997 and 2014 to 16% (see Overfishing has also largely stopped in the European Union’s Atlantic fisheries, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Norway and Canada (see ‘The fruits of fisheries management’)8. And management strategies recently implemented by major Latin American countries, including Peru, Argentina and Chile, have reduced the proportion of stocks that are fished above optimal rates from 75% in 2000 to 45% in 2011 (unpublished data).

In short, it is now clear that for those countries with effective fisheries management in place — a group of nations responsible for 45% of the global catch — fish stocks are stable, or increasing. Of course, most of the world’s fisheries, especially in Africa and in parts of Asia, have no protection of any kind.

Bridge the divide
Studies show that enforcing the closure of an area to fishing increases the density of fish in the reserve by around 166%1. Yet, at best, MPAs will cover a small fraction of the ocean and few studies have evaluated their effect on biodiversity outside their perimeters. Catch data, records of boat movements and other monitoring efforts indicate that fishing pressure may increase beyond MPAs2.

More pressingly, neither MPAs nor fisheries management alone can shield marine biodiversity from the panoply of current threats: climate change and ocean acidification, land-based run-off, oil spills, plastics, ship traffic, tidal and wind farms, ocean mining and underwater communications cables.

The enormity of the challenge calls for a change in approach. Instead of working at cross purposes, MPA advocates and those in fisheries management need to identify and solve area-specific problems together, and in consultation with diverse stakeholders. These may range from professional and recreational fishermen, park officers and environmental NGOs to developers, oil and gas companies and communications companies.

Regional coastal-management agencies, such as the California Coastal Commission, which operates as a quasi-independent government agency, are a potential model. But their mandate and membership would have to be significantly expanded if they were to deal with the impacts of fisheries and the establishment of MPAs. Such commissions have traditionally been confined to nearshore waters and have been able to regulate only development permits.

Marine spatial planning is a generic term for the process of resolving conflicts in the use of marine resources and would seem to be the obvious mechanism to integrate fisheries management and MPAs. Yet after more than a decade of discussion and some attempts at implementation, there are few examples of the process effectively bringing the two ‘tribes’ together to work towards common goals. I suspect that this is, in part, because insufficient efforts have been made to convince both parties that decision-making bodies represent their interests appropriately.

The best examples of MPA advocates and fisheries-management communities working together are small-scale. In the Philippines and Indonesia, for instance, communities are working with local governments and NGOs, using a mix of protected areas and other forms of regulation, to try to rebuild coral-reef fish stocks9. Here the principal aim is to make fishing more sustainable; the objective of protecting representative habitats is not typically considered.

In larger industrial fisheries, such as in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, it should be possible for MPA advocates to collaborate with national fisheries departments. This would require a clear elaboration of the objectives of each. It would also require the appointment of more conservationists and MPA advocates to fisheries-management organizations, which are currently dominated by regulatory agencies and fishing-interest groups.

Another way to foster collaboration on a national scale would be to merge the various government departments responsible for conservation and fisheries management into a single department of marine management. Such an organization could oversee the protection of biodiversity and the sustainable use of fisheries, and regulate competing marine uses. As a first step, a set of formal consultations, informed by case studies that measure the actual level of biodiversity protection achieved in different places through existing mixes of MPAs and fisheries management, could begin to identify clear measurable objectives.

At the local, national and international levels, biodiversity protection and fisheries management must be overseen by the same bodies if either is to be truly effective.

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May 27 2016

Ray Hilborn receives international fisheries science prize

Ray Hilborn, a UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences, this week will receive the 2016 International Fisheries Science Prize at the World Fisheries Congress in Busan, South Korea.

rhilbornRay Hilborn

The award is given to Hilborn by the World Council of Fisheries Societies’ International Fisheries Science Prize Committee in recognition of his 40-year career of “highly diversified research and publication in support of global fisheries science and conservation,” according to a news release.

For Hilborn, who has received numerous awards for his research — including the Volvo Environment Prize and the Ecological Society of America’s Sustainability Science Award — this recognition is particularly significant because it comes from other experts in fisheries science.

“It’s very gratifying in that it is experts in fisheries that are doing the evaluation and selection for this award,” Hilborn said.

As part of his award, Hilborn will give a keynote talk May 27 about how to sustain fisheries in the future by building on management success stories.

“We know how to sustainably manage large fisheries in rich countries. But the real challenge is those approaches won’t work for small-scale fisheries around the world or in countries that don’t have the wealth or governance that we do,” he said.

Hilborn’s research and teaching at the UW is in natural resource management and conservation. He has authored several books, including “Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know,” and has published more than 200 peer-reviewed articles. He is a fellow of the Washington State Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The World Fisheries Congress meets every four years in different locations, bringing together fisheries scientists from academic institutions and nongovernmental organizations. This is the seventh meeting; the first took place in Athens, Greece, in 1992.

Originally published:   For more information, contact Hilborn at

May 14 2016

Hilborn: Greenpeace attacks funding issue because science is sound


University of Washington fishery scientist Ray Hilborn has responded to Greenpeace’s accusation that he often fails to disclose industry funding when writing or speaking about the extent of overfishing.

In a letter sent Wednesday to university president Ana Mari Cauce, Greenpeace filed a complaint against Hilborn’s research practices, and asked for an investigation.

Hilborn, over the years, has been a critic of Greenpeace as well as other environmental groups and researchers he accuses of overstating the impacts of fishing on marine resources.

“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,” he said in a response on his blog.

“On the contrary it is clear that where effective fisheries management is applied, stocks are increasing not declining, and this is true in North America 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.”

The timing of Greenpeace’s attack is not random, said Hilborn; in two weeks he will receive the International Fisheries Science Prize at the World Fisheries Congress.

This prize is awarded every four years by fisheries science organizations from a number of countries including the US, 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.”

As for failing to disclose funding from industry and other “corporate interests”, Hilborn said:

“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.”

If he were to disclose these — and all of the environmental NGOs, private foundations, and government agencies which have helped fund research — the list would be longer than the papers themselves, he said.

“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 a inclusive, transparent and honest research process.”

Read the original post:

Apr 18 2016

Sardine stories

Ray Hilborn is a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington and a founding partner of Find him on twitter @hilbornr.

At the end of February, Dr. Geoff Shester, California campaign director for the nonprofit advocacy group Oceana, criticized the Pacific Fishery Management Council for the persistence of low numbers of California sardines. The lack of a population recovery may cause the commercial moratorium to last until 2017.

The author explained this sardine population decline as being 93 percent less than it was in 2007. Shester does not believe this is because of environmental causes like climate change, El Niño or natural fluctuations in forage fish species, however. Instead he blames the management body.

“They warned of a population collapse, and the fishery management body basically turned a blind eye and continued moving forward with business as usual.”

Shester also cited recent sea lion deaths, specifically 3,000 that washed ashore in California in 2015.

“When fishing pressure occurs during a decline, which is exactly what happened here,” says Shester, “it puts the stock at such dramatically low levels it impedes any recovery potentially for decades.” Shester’s comments are some of the most dishonest commentary I have seen in the fisheries world.

He knows the NOAA scientists and Professor Tim Essington, in work funded by the Pew Foundation, have stated clearly that the decline in sardine abundance is due to natural causes. He also knows that sea lions are not dependent upon sardines; the die-off of sea lions is caused by the oceanographic conditions — not the result of fishing. In fact, reproductive failures of sea lions have occurred repeatedly in the past at times of high sardine abundance.

If he has read Essington’s paper (“Fishing amplifies forage fish population collapses”) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he would also know that there is no relationship between fishing and the duration of periods of low abundance of sardines and other forage fish.

The harvest rule for sardines is highly precautionary, even when sardines are at high abundance, the harvest rate is low. Indeed the harvest control rule for sardines matches very well the recommended harvest rule for forage fish that emerged from the Lenfest report — that is a low target harvest rate at high abundance with the fishery closed when the stock reaches low abundance.

Members of the Science and Statistical Committee of the Pacific Fishery Management Council have explained all this to Shester before. He simply continues to ignore science and pursue his own agenda.

Download the PDF of this article:

Oct 26 2015

Ray Hilborn: NGO Approach to Seafood Sustainability has lost its way, putting money over Science

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

Copyright © 2015

Seafood News

SEAFOODNEWS.COM by Ray Hilborn October 26, 2015

Ray Hillborn posted the following comment on the new Cfood  – Science of Fisheries Sustainability website. He is responding to the recent Criticism of the GSSI tool by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) which was one of the developers of the tool, but seems to see a conflict between its role as an NGO and its role in supporting science.

Where is the science in seafood sustainability and certification?

It is about money and values – science has been largely lost.

Seafood sustainability is again in the news as the Global Seafood Sustainability Initiative (GSSI) released its tool for evaluating the sustainability of fisheries. The GSSI tool has drawn immediate criticism from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as they recently published an article titled, “GSSI compliance does not indicate sustainability certification, WWF warns.” This is an interesting development since WWF is on the board of GSSI.

GSSI is intended to provide an agreed standard for the wide range of certification and seafood labeling schemes. As their web site says “GSSI is a global platform and partnership of seafood companies, NGOs, experts, governmental and intergovernmental organizations working towards more sustainable seafood for everyone.” So who is right in this case, does the GSSI benchmarking tool tell you if a fishery is sustainable?

At its core, seafood sustainability is about the ability to produce food from the sea in the long term. Are the fishery and its management system operated in such a way that our grandchildren can still enjoy the same production from the fishery (subject to the constraints of external factors such as climate change) as we do today?

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, whose objective is food security, has been a big supporter of GSSI. For FAO, sustainability is about continued food production. During the 1990s when overfishing in developed countries was at its height, many retailers supported seafood certification because they wanted to have products to sell in the future … again a focus on food sustainability.

However, environmental NGOs such as WWF are interested less in food sustainability, and more in reducing the environmental impacts of fishing, whether that be catch of non-target species like sharks, or impacts of fishing gear on the seafloor. Consequently, WWF has been a strong supporter of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which is the leading certification scheme for sustainable fisheries. The MSC standard covers much more than sustainable food production and sets a high bar for environmental impacts of fishing. Yet environmental NGOs, including some national chapters of WWF, reject MSC certification because they feel the environmental standards in MSC are not high enough.

Due to the support of a broad range of diverse stakeholders, GSSI is a potential challenger to the MSC as the premier standard of what fish species are sustainably fished. If the GSSI standards are widely accepted, competitors to MSC that have a lower standard may be accepted by retailers as defining sustainability. Currently, consumer and retailers face a broad range of conflicting seafood advice. Once the criteria moves beyond just the sustainability of the fishery to include environmental impacts, things become confusing as there are so many different types of impacts with no consensus on which ones are more important than others. This is where fisheries certification moves from the arena of science, to one of values.

For consumers and retailers, all the conflicting seafood advice is confusing. Take pollock from Alaska, the largest fishery in the US. This fishery is MSC certified, yet the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch does not rate it as a top choice, but as a “good alternative.” Greenpeace puts pollock on its red list.

Equally interesting is the conflict within the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch itself. Skipjack tuna is one of the largest fisheries in the world and provides most of the world’s canned tuna. Skipjack from the western Pacific are red (Avoid), yellow (Good Alternative) and green (Best Choice) on the Seafood Watch guide, depending on how they are caught. Purse seine fishing has by-catch of many species and is thus red, while pole-and-line fishing has less by-catch and is green. However, purse seining has a much lower carbon footprint than pole-and-line fishing. Seafood Watch is valuing by-catch more than carbon footprint.

There is a major role for science in seafood sustainability. Science can determine if the management of a fishery will lead to long-term sustainability of food production. Science can also evaluate the environmental impacts of a fishery. However, science cannot tell you what environmental impacts are valued – that is a question of individual choice or public policy.

So where does this leave consumers, retailers and the rest of us interested in fish as food?

The answer is confusing and will likely remain so. GSSI was seen as a hope to sort out the conflicts in seafood labelling – given the WWF response it doesn’t seem likely it will do so.

The most interesting development in seafood sustainability is the force driving certification, and — spoiler alert — it isn’t consumers. Not too many people buy their fish based on sustainability ratings. Retailers, like your neighborhood Whole Foods, Costco or Safeway, do not want the media on their backs or an environmental NGO picketing their store for selling unsustainably harvested fish; they would rather be seen as supporting sustainable fishing to avoid negative press. They consider seafood certification that is backed by key NGOs like WWF as their protection. The next logical step for retailers is formal partnership agreements with the relevant NGO to advise them on what fish products to sell and to pay for this service.

This is a dangerous development because the seafood certification turned partnership becomes a secure funding source for the NGO. Tim Wilson, in his 2012 paper, called this relationship between “friendly” NGOs that provide cover from “hostile” NGOs that might picket a retailer “naked extortion.” If, however, initiatives like GSSI were to be widely accepted, those steady sources of funds will dry up.

Moreover, it is in the nature of NGOs to raise money to fund their activities; alarmist appeals to stop fisheries collapses continue to bring in the big bucks. News of fisheries successes might, at best, raise an indifferent, “meh.”

I know of many private conversations where quite reasonable NGO staff admit the need to find new crises to keep donations flowing. It’s no wonder then, that no matter how well fisheries are actually performing, the bar must be raised again and again to maintain the story that fisheries are failing to meet the ever shape-shifting sustainability standards.

In the immortal words of Deep Throat — Follow the money! Science, poor beggar, has largely been lost.

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Sep 1 2015

Ray Hilborn Says Recent Science Paper Makes Inflated Claim about Human Impacts on Marine Species

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

Copyright © 2015

Seafood News

Ray Hilborn sent a note regarding his comment on a paper in the August 21st issue of Science Magazine that makes the claim that humans take up to 14 times the amount of marine fish as other predators do.  The extrapolation is that humans are a super predator of marine life, and take an unsustainable proportion of the adult population of various species.

Ray says the authors made a mistake in only looking at individual predators and in not considering all predation on a given species.  He says that when all predation is considered, the results reverse themselves, and that natural predators take a larger proportion of adult marine fish than humans do.

His comment is below:

Comment by Ray Hilborn, University of Washington

This paper claims that humans have a up to 14 times higher exploitation rate than natural predators. There is a basic flaw in the analysis which diminishes the validity of the conclusions the authors come to. First the calculated predation rate of natural predators will depend on how many predators you look at. Dozens or even hundreds of species may prey upon a given species, most of them taking a trivial fraction of the prey. If you find data only for the most important predators (the ones that take the most of the prey species) you will estimate a high predation rate, but if you find data for all the species that prey upon a species the median will be much much lower.

In fact there are hundreds of potential predators for any species, most take none of the prey species, so if you had data for all of them you would say that the average predation rate was nearly zero for natural predators. Thus the more data on predation rate for individual species you can find, and the more you find predation data for trivial predators, the lower you will estimate “average” predation. However, if you look at the predators who take the most of the specific prey the fraction of the prey will be much higher and often more than humans.

Chart from Darimont Paper, Science Magazine

The more important question is what is the total predation rate compared to the human exploitation rate? One has to read the Darimont paper carefully to realize they are talking about rates of individual predatory species, not rates of predators as a whole. For instance their abstract says “humans kill adult prey… at much higher median rates than other predators (up to 14 times higher). ” Thus they are comparing the rates of all other predatory species taken one at a time to that of humans. There may be natural predators who have a very high predation rate (higher than humans), but they are masked by the average of other predators with low rates. The clear implication is that we take more adults than do predators. Much of the media coverage interprets their results this way.

This is absolutely not true as shown in the analysis below which shows that humans take about ½ as many adult fish as marine predators.

Chart: Ray Hilborn

To compare the rates of fishing mortality to rates of natural mortality (almost all of which is from predation), I used the RAM Legacy Stock Assessment Data Base ( the same data base used by Dairmont et al. to obtain fishing mortality rates. I selected the 223 fish stocks for which we had both natural mortality and human exploitation rates, and plot the distribution of the two in the graph below. We find that fishing mortality on adult fish is on average roughly ½ of the predation rate — not 14 times higher as the abstract of their paper would leave you to believe. Remember Dairmont were not looking at all of predation, but counting each predator as an individual data point. In aggregate predators take far more adult fish than do humans, but you would not understand that by reading the Dairmont paper.

The authors conclude that argument that globally humans are unsustainable predators. This flies in the face of the fact that we have considerable empirical evidence that we can sustainably harvest fish and wildlife populations. The basic key to sustainable harvesting is keeping the fraction exploited at a level that can be sustained in the long term, and adjusting harvest up and down as populations fluctuate. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations provides the most comprehensive analysis of the status of global fisheries and estimates than about 30% of global fish stocks are overexploited – the other 70% are at levels of abundance that are generally considered sustainable.

Many fisheries are evaluated by independent organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council and Monterey Bay Aquarium and classified as “sustainable” yet Dairmont and co-authors suggest that no fisheries are sustainably managed.

As an example, sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay Alaska have been sustainably managed for over a century, have been evaluated as sustainable by every independent organization, and the key is limiting harvest so that enough fish reach the spawning grounds to replenish the species. In this case humans take about 2/3 of the returning adult salmon – a much higher fraction than the predators, but it is sustainable and stocks are at record abundance.

Darimont and coauthors suggest we need to reduce exploitation pressure by as much as 10 fold. This may be true in some places but in the US we manage fisheries quite successfully. We agree with the authors that management is key to keeping healthy and sustainable populations of fish and wildlife. However, instead of “emulating natural predators” and decreasing human exploitation across the board, we need to work to use our knowledge to expand good management practices to more species and areas of the world.

Dairmont and co authors argue that humans should act more like natural predators, without giving any justification for this. Boris Worm provided a comment also published in the same issue of Science in which he said “we have the unusual ability to analyze and consciously adjust our behavior to minimize deleterious consequences. ” I couldn’t agree more. We manage our fisheries to balance benefits to humans and maintain healthy ecosystems. We know how to sustainably manage fisheries and wildlife and in many places are doing a very good job at it.

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