Ray Hilborn fights back against Greenpeace accusations

Published on
July 14, 2016

Global fisheries expert and University of Washington Professor Ray Hilborn is fighting back against accusations made in May by the environmental activist group Greenpeace alleging he did not appropriately disclose funding he received from the seafood industry.

In an email to SeafoodSource, Hilborn denied any conflict of interest in his work and attached copies of emails sent from representatives of the academic journals Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and Science backing the integrity of his contributions to both publications. Hilborn also attached a copy of an email from Mary Lidstrom, the vice provost for research at the University of Washington, showing that a university review of Hilborn’s actions did not reveal any violations of the university’s policies or procedures governing conflicts of interest or outside consulting.

“As UW, PNAS and Science concluded, I complied with the regulations required by the University and journals,” Hilborn told SeafoodSource. (See the full interview here).

In her email, which was sent to PNAS Deputy Executive Editor Daniel Salsbury, Lidstrom said the university reviewed Hilborn’s funding types and sources, publication history and disclosures, as well as approvals for outside consulting and checked them against UW policies.

“We have not identified any actions or lack thereof, engaged in by Dr. Hilborn which violate University policies or procedures governing conflicts of interest or outside consulting,” Lidstrom wrote.

Greenpeace obtained numerous documents through a Freedom of Information Act detailing Hilborn’s funding sources, which include 69 seafood companies and industry organizations. According to the documents, since 2002, Hilborn brought in more than USD 3.56 million (EUR 3.13 million) in funding from the seafood industry to the University of Washington, representing about one-third of his total outside funding during that time. Hilborn has also received an undisclosed amount of money as payment for independent consulting done for seafood companies and organizations around the world, the documents revealed.

Greenpeace accused Hilborn of hiding his connections to industry in research papers, op-eds published in prominent national newspapers and in testimony he gave to the U.S. Congressional Committee on Natural Resources in 2013.

Hilborn told the Seattle Times in June that he did not feel obligated to disclose his industry funding unless it was specifically for research that was the focus of an academic journal article, and that he never deliberately omitted mention of industry funding.

In his email to SeafoodSource, Hilborn denied that any of his research or data had been altered or presented in such a way that distorted or misrepresented the truth in order to present a more favorable picture of any of his funders. Hilborn also provided SeafoodSource with a list of his scholarly publications that includes each paper’s acknowledgement of funding sources and a brief explanation of competing interests, if any, for each paper.

Hilborn said he believes he is being unfairly attacked due to his positions and research countering the widely-held opinion that the world’s fish stocks are declining.

“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. “On the contrary it is clear that where effective fisheries management is applied, stocks are increasing not declining.”

In May, Hilborn was awarded the 2016 International Fisheries Science Prize at the World Fisheries Congress in Busan, South Korea. The award was given for Hilborn’s “highly diversified research and publication in support of global fisheries science and conservation,” according to a news release. Hilborn has also won the Volvo Environment Price and Ecological Society of America’s Sustainability Science Award.

While Hilborn steadfastly denies the Greenpeace allegations, he told SeafoodSource he will change his behavior in regard to reporting his funding sources.

“I will now be much more explicit in the future since this [issue] has been raised,” he said.

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