[Coral-List] conflict of interest

Magnus Johnson m.johnson at hull.ac.uk
Sun Jul 3 15:21:31 EDT 2016

I think Ray's main points are around that fact that Greenpeace are not attacking the science, they are playing the man . . which suggests that they have no reasonable argument to make against his science.  They have recently been criticised by 107 Nobel laureates for misrepresenting science around GMOs


(I have issues with GMOs but they are more to do with corporates disadvantaging artisanal farmers)

The point about MPAs is that they exclude fishers from areas where they can target fish.  The Chagos reserve is a case in point.  It doesn't protect tuna, in fact it may be resulting in more illegal fishing using gear that takes more bycatch of sharks as there are no legitimate fishermen protecting their own rights to fish there and reporting illegals and local surveillance is inadequate.

The point about declining catches - that can be down to a myriad of things.  Catches are not good representations of biomass.  Catches can decline because of falling population or improving legislation/protection. They can increase because of increasing effort, better reporting or increasing populations (e.g. because of good management).

Ray isn't some fishing industry stooge.  His recent work has suggested that while our management of large scale fisheries has improved somewhat, there is a need now to focus on artisanal fisheries where the picture is much more murky.  He's not against MPAs per se, they have their place in the arsenal of fisheries managers/conservationists.  Like most sensible folk he recognises that they are not a silver bullet for marine conservation, we need to be clever and use a range of tools to ensure sensible conservation and exploitation based on science.

People are quite free to take a moral stance against fisheries etc, there is no need to dress it up with bad science.  e.g. see Eugene Balon's work on the ethics of angling www3.carleton.ca/fecpl/pdfs/Balon%20MS.pdf

I've seen that "fox amongst the chickens" analogy so many times.  It's just so wrong when applied to fisheries management.  It stems from Hardin's classic paper on "tragedy of the commons".  The fundamental flaw in the paper (despite the fact it stimulated so much excellent work afterwards) was that it assumed that people didn't speak to each other or make agreements.  In some circumstances the analogy applies but people recognise nowadays that you can change the arena so that people can develop home grown management systems that endure.  There are many examples in fisheries.  See the work of Ostrom.  The future will lie, not in enforcement, but in tinkering with the rules so that conservation is an integral part of the system not something that opposes fishing.

  cheers, Magnus

From: Douglas Fenner [douglasfennertassi at gmail.com]
Sent: 02 July 2016 21:14
To: Magnus  Johnson
Cc: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] conflict of interest

     Hilborn's response was unresponsive to many of the points the Greenpeace piece raised.  There are significant problems with some of the arguments Hiborn makes in his response and elsewhere.  He says that Greenpeace says that overfishing is universal, they don't: few if any conservationists state that all fish stocks are overfished.  He says that it is in the interest of fishers to have well managed stocks; and while it is in the long term interest of fishers to have a well managed fishery, in is in their short term interest to take all they can get before someone else takes it, and short term interests usually control human behavior.  Although he tries to downplay the amount of overfishing, Hilborn is a co-author on a recent paper that states that the median condition of the world's fisheries is overfished.  Hilborn says he supports all views being represented in fisheries debates, yet he is said to advocate for giving fisheries councils in the US more power, although they have been documented to have little or no conservation representation.  Hilborn argues that giant MPAs are too small to protect "highly migratory" tuna, yet he also argues that giant MPAs will reduce the world's food supply.  They could only do that if they were effective at protecting tuna.  And Hilborn cherry picks data on fishing down the food web on his website.

     I did not find in Hilborn's reply a point by point rebuttal of the Greenpeace article.  In particular, the Greenpeace article had 4 bullet points, none of which were responded to.  It seems to me that Hilborn's response boils down to saying that since he's received $16 million in funding, $3.5 million is only a small part of that, so the fact it came from the fishing industry is not important.  Plus he got funding from some conservation organizations as well.  Further, he says that he can't list all the funding agencies for each article, and doesn't need to list those that did not fund that particular article.  He didn't say it in his response, but there is no problem with the fishing industry paying for research on finding ways to reduce overfishing or ecosystem impacts, etc.
     The Hilborn response can be found at:
https://rayhblog.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/hilborn-response-to-greenpeace..pdf  (I think Magnus' link didn't work because it had two periods between greenpeace and pdf)
     Hilborn has written that conservationists want to stop ALL fishing.  That's hardly the case, and he should know it.  In this piece, he says in the second sentence that Greenpeace "repeated assertions that overfishing is universal."  I did a search on "overfishing universal" on the Greenpeace website, but nothing popped up.  A search on "overfishing" got lots of hits, but as I read titles, I can't find any that say that "overfishing is universal" or anything that means the same thing or close to it.  Hilborn's statement appears to literally not be true.  He should check his facts a bit more carefully before he states things in public.  I don't remember ever having read that elsewhere either in the science literature, though the media commonly suggests something like this, but I doubt it is a common conservationist position.  He's a co-author of a new paper that says that over half of all fisheries are overfished.  That appears to be a significant problem.  It is easier to exaggerate your opponent's position and then attack that straw man, than to attack your opponent's actual position.
     Hilborn also writes "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."  I'll argue that that is a gross oversimplification and misleading.  Yes, over the long haul, it would be in the financial interest of the industry as a whole to have good management..  But in the short term, and for individual fishermen and companies, it is in their financial interest to take as much as they possibly can get before someone else gets it.  Hilborn likes to call that the "race for fish", others call it the "tragedy of the commons."  Short term individual interests generally dominate long term group interests.  If they didn't, there would be no overfished stocks and no need for regulation.  The evidence indicates that he is dead wrong on this one.  But he's saying what the fishing industry likes to hear, because it doesn't like restrictions on fishing and because it prefers that public statements downplay any problems with overfishing.  It doesn't like restrictions because they can hurt short term profits.  I think Hilborn is enough of an expert to know better.  He's not ignorant..  But he is good at tilting in favor of the fishing industry (as well as doing high quality research).
     The Greenpeace letter to the University of Washington (where Hilborn is a professor) spells out a number of individual instances in which acknowledgements were omitted by Hilborn.  Hilborn's reply did not respond to those individual instances.
     Hilborn says that Greenpeace doesn't attack his science, because they can't.  Readers may recall my earlier post on Hilborn, arguing with several of his positions on MPAs.  His positions are certainly not limited to the hard science.  In fact, his statements often imply that the extent of overfishing is exaggerated by conservationists, yet the most recent summary, by Costello et al (including Hilborn) says in the abstract that the median condition for world fisheries is overfished, though 32% of stocks are not overfished:

Costello, C., Ovando, D., Clavelle, D., Strauss, C.K., Hilborn, R., Meinychuck, M.C., Branch, T.A., Gaines, S.D., Szuwalski, C.S., Cabrai, R.B., Rader, D.N., Leland, A., 2016. Global fishery prospects under contrasting management regimes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1520420113.

   In the Greenpeace page there are links to several documents, including a short opinion piece published in Environmental Science and Technology, entitled: "Viewpoint: why disclosure matters."  Interesting read.

The Greenpeace web page states at one point that "Dr. Hilborn calls for turning over a greater share of management to fisheries councils, which are overwhelmingly populated by representatives of industry."  The basis of the latter part of that statement was not documented.  But it reminded me of a paper that does document it:

Okey, T.A.  2003.  Membership of the eight regional fishery management councils in the United States: are special interests over-represented?  Marine Policy 27: 193-206.         Not open-access, check Google Scholar

Fisheries Councils in the U.S. have influence on coral reef fish management, particularly in federal waters (beyond 3 miles from shore).

     Advocating as Hilborn does for giving fisheries councils more power in the management of fisheries, is to advocate putting the fox in charge of the chicken coup even more than it already is.  There is a fundamental conflict of interest when an industry is allowed to "self-regulate."  In practice, they rarely regulate, they fight regulation.  They are a special interest group.  But his advocacy for more power for fisheries councils is surely warmly regarded by the fishing lobby, since they have an outsize influence in the councils, if not total control.
    Interestingly, in his reply to the Greenpeace posting, Hilborn ends with the statement that "My belief is that all voices need to be heard, and all stakeholders need to be at the table."  Yet he strongly supports giving fisheries councils more power, even though the fisheries councils are dominated by fishing interests, with little or no representation from scientists or conservationists (scientists are represented not on the council which makes the council policy, but on the "Scientific and Statistical Committee" which in some fisheries councils is dominated by those who are supportive of the industry and others who are unaware of how the council operates; but there are vanishingly few if any representatives of conservation interests).  Hardly a good example of what he says he supports.  Yet he is surely not so ignorant as to not know that fisheries councils are dominated by fishing interests, it is well documented in the Okey article and widely known.
    Another inconsistency is that Hilborn and supporters often say that giant MPAs can't work because tuna and tuna-like species are "highly migratory" and will swim out of the MPA, so the MPA can't protect them.  I just noticed that in his debate with Callum Roberts, one of his main points was that giant MPAs will reduce the world fish catch, and since people need to be fed, that will shift burden onto other resources, such as on land and have environmental and financial costs.  Yet he doesn't point out that that will only happen if giant MPAs are actually effective at protecting these migratory fish.  Yet he has argued that they will not be effective (if they are not effective, just as many fish will be caught as before the MPA, so no impact on food supply).  Either one or the other of his arguments will fail, they can't both be true.  Yet he certainly doesn't point that out.  Much better to be able to trot out either one when they are useful in an argument.
    I thought the Greenpeace title was interesting, referring to Hilborn as a denier.  In a sense, he's not a denier of overfishing, he certainly says that there is overfishing of some stocks.  He denies there is universal overfishing, but then no scientist is claiming that as far as I know (the media often talk as though it's true, though).  One parallel to climate change deniers appears in his "CFood" website, under the category "Myths."  The 4th "myth" listed, is entitled "We are NOT fishing down the food chain."  http://cfooduw.org/myths/we-are-fishing-down-the-food-chain/
  It has 2 graphs, the first is of data published by Pauly in 1998, which showed a decrease in trophic level of fish catches.  The second is a graph in which new data is added and some data was corrected for a corrected trophic level for cod.  Hilborn says that the new graph shows that trophic level is increasing.  He has arrows on both graphs to make his point.  The arrows show decrease in the first graph, and increase in the second graph.  Readers will note that the arrow is only for the latter part of the data.  This is cherry picking the data.  If Hilborn actually used science to analyze the graph, he would have plotted a regression line for the whole data set in each graph.  For the first graph, the regression line would have had a relatively steep decline, and for the second a relatively gradual decline, but a decline nevertheless (it may not be significantly different from no trend, that I don't know).  He could have said that while there is still an overall decline, the curve is now rising and if it continues, in time the overall trend will become no decline or an increase.  That would be legitimate to say.  But he did not do that, he chose to cherry pick and say that it is increasing.  Hilborn is very knowledgeable about statistics, he obviously knows better, but he chose to cherry pick and deliberately come to the wrong conclusion.  In fact, the data he presents in these graphs do NOT support the title of this web page of his.  The rest of the information on the page appears to support the title for the page.

    Hilborn is of course entitled to his opinions and to express them whenever he wants (though no one is legally required to give him a megaphone or platform to speak from).  However, his bias is pretty transparent.  Perhaps people might want to consider his statements critically.

Cheers,  Doug

On Tue, May 17, 2016 at 1:26 AM, Magnus Johnson <m.johnson at hull.ac.uk<mailto:m.johnson at hull.ac.uk>> wrote:
Incapable of tackling the science, Greenpeace appear to be attempting to discredit one of the most world's most respected fisheries scientists.  Ray's response is here:


-----Original Message-----
From: John Hocevar [mailto:jhocevar at greenpeace.org<mailto:jhocevar at greenpeace.org>]
Sent: 16 May 2016 17:51
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov<mailto:coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Subject: [Coral-List] conflict of interest

Hi -

After seeing the discussion about Gene's question whether reef scientists benefit from climate change, I thought some of you might be interested in a related debate unfolding now. On Thursday, Greenpeace revealed <http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/research/overfishing-denier>
that Ray Hilborn, a prominent UW fisheries biologist, had taken $3.56 million from industry, and often failed to disclose these conflicts of interest appropriately. We sent this letter <https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2829811-Hilborn-Complaint-Letter-Final.html>
to UW outlining our findings, including several specific examples where it seemed that direct conflicts had not been disclosed in apparent violation of journal policies.

This is clearly quite a bit different than reef scientists working to understand and address the most significant threat to the survival of coral reefs. I bring this up here as contrast, but also because MPAs are one of the most tools we have to increase the resiliency of reef ecosystems and give them a chance of surviving the rapid changes they are experiencing. Dr. Hilborn has frequently argued against MPAs in recent years, as in this debate <https://www.openchannels.org/chat/online-debate-large-no-take-areas-their-total-environmental-impact-positive-or-negative>
with Callum Roberts, and has been vocal in his criticism of marine conservation efforts. As has become clear through conversations with scientists over the past few days, many people who were understandably frustrated with Hilborn's role in debates around the California Marine Life Protection Act, or reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, were unaware of the extent of his industry ties.

Media coverage has been fairly balanced so far, with strong coverage in Le Monde, Der Spiegel, NZ Herald, AP, NPR, Seattle Times, and the Huffington Post <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ray-hilborn-funding_us_57365012e4b077d4d6f33238>.
UW, several scientific journals, the NY Times (which published an Op-Ed by Hilborn), and several funders are looking into this matter now and considering next steps. There has been a lively (ahem) conversation about this controversy on social media, and I encourage you to add your thoughts.

John Hocevar
Oceans Campaign Director
Greenpeace USA

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