It should have come as no suprise that environmental business Greenpeace has attacked prominent fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn.
Hilborn, you may recall, was one of the most vocal critics of the methodology behind the now-infamous Boris Worm-led study published in 2006 that proclaimed the oceans would be empty of fish by 2048.
And Hilborn continues to challenge assertions by these environmental businesses (remember, they make their money by spreading fear through the-sky-is-falling proclamations designed to get people to open their wallets out of a sense of worry or panic) that persist 10 years later.
Worm's assertions in the paper published in Science magazine in 2006 were based on one category of data, catch rates, which extrapolated that to apocalyptic levels. And while those assertions have been refuted by a number of scientists, enviro-businesses, desperate to kick fishermen off the oceans, continue to scream and bang pans and claim that fisheries are still full-speed-ahead toward destruction. That claim is their only hope of forcing fisheries managers and the U.S. government to close off more and more ocean areas to fishermen.
It hasn't been working, however; the constant apocalypic refrain — and reports from the National Marine Fisheries Service that yes, fisheries are rebounding — have made people tune out the rhetoric.
So they've turned to a new tactic: attacking the integrity of their opponents, looking for that GOTCHA moment they can use to say the facts that they don't like are invalid.
Greenpeace tried. They requested documents on every fisheries study Hilborn has published going back to 2006, and then tried to claim he failed to report all of the groups that funded his research.
Those claims have been examined — and rejected — by the National Academies of Science, by Science magazine, and by the University of Washington, where Hilborn works. According to reports in the Huffington Post and on NPR, the organizations said Hilborn properly disclosed his funding and avoided conflicts of interest.
The Greenpeace attack is ironic for several reasons.
For starters, Worm and Hilborn actually collaborated in 2009 and reached the collaborative conclusion that the doomsday predictions were wrong. Worm, for his part, acknowledged in a 2009 article in Nature magazine about the joint study that he and Hilborn came from starkly different viewpoints on fishing, with Worm's mindset being more that fishing disturbs the ecosystem.
Hilborn has drawn fire now, however, because he simply refuses to back down from those who want the world to believe we are still killing every fish in the sea. He particularly took on the enviromental businesses like Greenpeace and their scare tactics in an essay published by the Nature Conservancy in 2010: "Apocalyptic assertions that fisheries management is failing are counter-productive — not only because these assertions are untrue, but because they fail to recognize the long, hard work of fishery managers, scientists and stakeholders in the many places where management is working. While the gloom-and-doom advocates have been attracting public attention and press coverage, thousands of people — decried by (Daniel) Pauly (2009b) as agents of the commercial fishing interests — have worked through years of meetings and painful catch and effort reductions to lower fishing pressure and successfully rebuild fisheries." Pauly is one scientist who continues to say the oceans are emptying, despite growing evidence that managed fisheries are rebounding and is a vocal proponent of Marine Protected areas. (If you want an example of how fisheries are rebounding, look no further than the incredible white marlin fishing that has taken place off the Mid-Atlantic coast this summer.) There's another irony in the Greenpeace attack: The Boris Worm study that still has people believing that we are taking every last fish out of the ocean was significantly assisted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, as noted in the study itself: "This work was conducted as part of the Linking Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Working Group, supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis funded by NSF, the University of California, and the Santa Barbara campus. The project was stimulated by N. Loder after discussion at the conference Marine Biodiversity: The Known, Unknown, and Unknowable, funded by the Sloan Foundation. The authors thank D. Pauly and the Sea Around Us Project (http://seaaroundus.org), supported by the the Pew Charitable Trusts, for access to global catch data; W. Blanchard and M. Sandow for technical support; E. Green for dive trip data; and N. Baron, P. Kareiva, R. A. Myers, U. Sommer, and D. Tittensor for helpful comments." And when Worm and Hilborn collaborated, Pew of course put a negative spin on the findings, using it to push for more conservative targets, which was not the conclusion of the Worm-Hilborn study. Hilborn and Worm both said fisheries management tools were in place and working, and that enforcement and management in parts of the world where no management exists are needed. Hilborn on his blog says it's clear why Greenpeace and other groups continue to go after him: “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,” Hilborn wrote. And the best part? Some of his funding has come from organizations that pound the overfishing refrain: the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. “I am a vocal advocate for where marine conservation has worked, and identifying where it is not working,” Hilborn said. “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.” “The major threat to sustainable jobs, food, recreational opportunity and revenue from U.S. marine fisheries is no longer overfishing, but underfishing,” Hilborn wrote in 2013 testimony submitted to Congress, according to an article on the Huffington Post. No wonder Greenpeace hates him. If you want to read more from Ray Hilborn, check out his blog: http://rayhblog.wordpress.com. Show him some support, and make sure you support the groups that continue to fight for your fishing rights. That's the only way to beat the megamillion-dollar mouthpieces like Greenpeace at their own game.
Karen Wall Subscribe