NOAA’s Chris Oliver demands retraction of scientific paper alleging high levels of IUU fishing in Alaska

Published on
October 20, 2017

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Chris Oliver has called for the retraction of a scientific paper that draws the conclusion that illegal and unreported seafood caught in the United States is entering the Japanese market.

The paper, “Estimates of illegal and unreported seafood imports to Japan,” was published in Marine Policy, a scientific journal covering ocean policy. The paper made estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of Alaska pollock, salmon, and crab being exported to Japanese markets comes from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

In a letter to Marine Policy Editor-in-Chief Hance Smith, Oliver questioned the methodology of the study and asked for an immediate retraction.

“While NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service generally agrees with the value of catch documentation and traceability as one of many tools available to combat IUU fishing, it strongly objects to authors’ claims regarding U.S. seafood exports to Japan and doubts the validity of the methodology used to makes such estimates,” Oliver wrote. “The allegations made in the paper absent any transparency regarding the data and assumptions supporting them are irresponsible and call into question the authors’ conclusions. Without significantly more information and transparency regarding data sources and methodologies applied, the paper should be retracted in its entirety.”

All U.S. fisheries, including the Alaska fisheries in question, are “carefully managed and closely monitored” using observers, satellite-based monitoring systems, certified catch monitoring and weighing procedures, and electronic reporting,” Oliver wrote.

“There is no empirical evidence of the authors’ general insinuations or quantitative estimate of unreported discards, use of illegal gear, or violation of minimum size limits,” he wrote. “Distorting information and disparaging U.S. fisheries that stand as world-class models for sustainable management and effective enforcement without any transparency of source or process undermines our collective efforts to combat IUU fishing and improve stewardship of global fisheries.”

In an email to SeafoodSource, Smith said his journal did not plan to retract the article until its “editorial process is complete.”

“The normal practice of Marine Policy is to publish the critique of the article together with a response to the critique by the authors – if they decide to respond, both subject to our normal editorial process.  This will take some time,” Smith said. “Marine Policy cannot retract the paper before the editorial process is complete, and may not do so if appropriate responses are received and accepted by those concerned. At this time the authors may not even have been notified.”

The study was funded by the Walton Family Foundation and also provided estimates of the amount of seafood products with IUU origins coming from China, Chile, Russia and other countries. It was authored by Ganapathiraju Pramod, Gopikrishna Mantha, and Tony Pitcher.

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