Washington, DC (PRWEB) December 19, 2013
(Saving Seafood) - Warning that “within our lifetimes, the world’s supply of fish could collapse entirely,” the startup news website OZY last week promulgated claims about the depletion of ocean fish based on 7-10 year old studies that were controversial at the time of their publication, and have been largely disproven by multiple scientific authorities in the ensuing years. (“Plenty of Fish in the Sea?” by Melissa Pandika, 12/12)
One of OZY's allegations was that even pet goldfish would disappear.
The article begins with the statement "Whether it’s tuna sashimi or lobster bisque, we love our seafood — so much so that the ocean can’t keep up." But in fact, after an independent, third-party assessment, Maine lobster was declared a "sustainable and well-managed fishery" at the International Boston Seafood Show by the internationally-recognized Marine Stewardship Council on March 13 of this year.
This OZY story is the latest to cite the claim that the population of bluefin tuna “has dropped almost 90 percent since the 1960s in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans.” This claim originated in a study, published in 2003 by Drs. Ransom A. Myers and Boris Worm, of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada (Nature, vol. 423, 15 May 2003, pp. 280-283), which reached its conclusions using data on bluefin tuna taken only from longline fisheries. In a paper published over fifty years ago (Pacific Science,Vol. XVI, January 1962) Vernon Brock of the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries noted that "Longline gear, as used for tuna fishing, characteristically takes the larger tuna." Since longline gear selectively targets larger bluefin, fish caught using longlines are not a representative sample of the species as a whole.
The study’s conclusion that the tuna population has declined by 90 percent has been challenged by Dr. Maria José Juan-Jordá, of Canada's Simon Fraser University who addressed the issue in her doctoral dissertation at the Universidade da Coruña in Galicia, Spain. It has also been criticized by Dr. Victor Restrepo, Senior Vice President of Science at the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). Dr. Restrepo previously worked with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICATT) and served as head scientist for the NOAA delegation to ICATT. In a radio interview last October 31 with Saving Seafood, Dr. Restrepo discussed this issue, and presented evidence that the decline in tuna has been closer to 50 percent than 90.
Another claim in the OZY article is the assertion that all global fisheries are on track to collapse by 2048. This claim, first published in a 2006 study by Dr. Boris Worm (Science, 3 November 2006:
Vol. 314 no. 5800 pp. 787-790), was quickly challenged by prominent fisheries scientists beginning with a November 7, 2006 interview on National Public Radio's "On Point with Tom Ashbrook" in which Dr. Ray Hilborn, of the University of Washington in Seattle, criticized the study "because it fails to recognize that some areas have reversed the trend," noting that, for example, “Iceland has turned its fisheries around, " but Dr. Worm's paper "doesn’t mention such success stories.” Dr. Hilborn is the author of "Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know" (Oxford University Press, 2012).
In an article entitled Faith Based Fisheries, (Fisheries, vol. 31 no. 11, Nov. 2006) available on the website of the American Institute of Fisheries Research Biologists, Dr. Hilborn accused the science journals "Science" and "Nature" of publishing a string of papers on the collapse of the fisheries, "not for their scientific merit, but for their publicity value.” Dr. Brian Rothschild, the former dean of the University of Massachusetts School for Marine Science and Technology, in 2010 described references to the 2048 date as "reckless" and argued "there is scientific consensus that they are." (Gloucester Daily Times, June 30, 2010, "Flawed science behind new fishing rules" by Nancy Gaines) Dr. Steve Murawski, at the time director of scientific programs and chief science advisor at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, defended U.S. fisheries management system in the journal Science in 2007 (Biodiversity loss in the ocean: How bad is it? Science 316:1281-1281) and pointed out that the proportion of stocks overfished in the U.S. was declining, not increasing.
In a 2010 "Conservancy Talks" blog post entitled "Why Do We Keep Hearing Global Fisheries Are Collapsing?," Dr. Peter Kareiva, chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy, observed that "on average, the conservation and environmental community errs on the side of being unduly alarmist and apocalyptic in interpreting the data we have, to the detriment of being solution-oriented.” Dr. Kareiva noted “Yes, … there are fisheries that have collapsed. But there are also well-managed fisheries — something you almost never hear about. And it is these success stories that can tell us what we need to do to reverse our failures."
In 2009, Dr. Hilborn and Dr. Worm brought fisheries managers and marine ecologists together for a series of workshops and published a subsequent paper (Science 31 July 2009: Vol. 325 no. 5940 pp. 578-585) that called the 2048 prediction into serious doubt. The fruits of this collaboration were described in a 2009 article by Cornelia Dean "Study Finds Hope in Saving Saltwater Fish" published in the New York Times. The article noted that "In the end, the scientists concluded that 63 percent of saltwater fish stocks had been depleted 'below what we think of as a target range,' Dr. Worm said. But they also agreed that fish in well-managed areas, including the United States, were recovering or doing well." The article covered a press conference describing the results: "Dr. Worm said he hoped to be alive in 2048, when he would turn 79. If he is, he said, “I will be hosting a seafood party — at least I hope so.” Dr. Hilborn discussed these issues in depth, also in the New York Times, in a 2011 opinion piece "Let us Eat Fish."
The article tells readers they can "turn the tide" by following the seafood sustainability recommendations published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and that "much of the solution also lies in policy changes." But it fails to note that the United States has already adopted policies to address overfishing.
Since 2006, U.S. law has required that all species taken and processed from Federally-managed fisheries be harvested sustainability according to best available science. Third party recommendations are often made not solely on objective data related to sustainability, but also based on the recommending organization’s viewpoints related to gear types and other issues. For example, Monterrey Bay’s “Seafood Watch” program "criterion #4" includes "Impact of fishing gear on the substrate" in determining its sustainability ranking. This is a factor that does not influence whether or not a species is being fished sustainably, but one that reflects the Aquarium’s environmental policy priorities. Relying on third party sustainability certifications can be problematic, as the National Park Service discovered earlier this year, when it instructed vendors to use third party certifications rather than government data in selecting seafood offerings to be sold in our national parks. That instruction was later revoked by the Federal Government's General Accountability Office which told Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in a November 22, 2013 letter that "American managed fisheries do not require third-party certification to demonstrate responsible and sustainable practices."
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