Hilborn vs. Greenpeace – Integrity Won

Fisheries Ecology and Population Modeling

Fisheries Ecology and Population Modeling is defended. Photo: http://www.noaa.gov/fisheries

By Mike Nussman, President and CEO, American Sportfishing Association

Character assassination and innuendo seem to have replaced debate and open discussion of issues these days. If you cannot refute someone’s policy arguments, then invent an allegation, throw mud and make the attack personal.

Surprisingly, I am not describing the 2016 Presidential election.

Rather, I am referring to Greenpeace’s recent misguided attempt to slander Ray Hilborn, Ph.D., an internationally recognized expert on fisheries ecology and population modeling whose research is highly regarded by policy makers around the globe. Dr. Hilborn is professor of aquatic and fishery science at the University of Washington.

Greenpeace, the D.C.-based environmental organization, asserts that overfishing is universal and the oceans are being emptied. However, Dr. Hilborn’s, and his collaborators, scientific research and conclusions continually punch holes in Greenpeace’s desire to turn the world’s oceans into one great no fishing zone. So, with no science of their own to “stand on,” Greenpeace set out to attack the man’s integrity.

This past May, Greenpeace attempted to cast doubt on Dr. Hilborn’s science by challenging the transparency of his funding sources. They challenged Dr. Hilborn’s professional integrity, with accusations that he was furtively pushing a message favorable to the fishing industry – that fishing pressure can remain high without negative impacts on stocks – in exchange for financial gain and research support.

This “lack of transparency” conspiracy theory runs rampant in Washington, D.C., a place I’ve worked for the past 30 years. While Dr. Hilborn has retained his credibility: Greenpeace’s tactics have none.

For the record, Dr. Hilborn was cleared of bias by two of the most respected science research publications, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Science magazine. Moreover, his employer, the University of Washington, released a statement saying that Dr. Hilborn followed all necessary protocols for publicizing funding and was in full compliance with disclosure rules. Even had these institutions not been probed to vouch for him, he states quite clearly on his website the funding sources for his research.

Environmental groups (e.g., Pew and the Environmental Defense Fund), the commercial sector (e.g. Bristol Bay Salmon Processors) and federal agencies (e.g. National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) have all entrusted Hilborn and his lab to conduct studies on various aspects of saltwater fisheries, covering topics such as hatcheries, fishing cooperatives and the influence of changing environmental conditions on fish populations. In fact, Dr. Hilborn and Greenpeace both receive funding from the Packard Foundation.

Something that struck me about Ray Hilborn going back to one of the first times we spoke was how frank he is about what the science says. What, then, can we make of the assertion that his “agenda” is to promote the fishing industry and, as Greenpeace would portray it, to squander our marine resources? This is far from accurate.

In fact, in his own response to Greenpeace’s allegations, Dr. Hilborn thanked Greenpeace for offering him the opportunity to advertise his research and its results. Dr. Hilborn noted that Greenpeace is unable to attack the science; science that threatens their repeated assertions that overfishing is universal and that the oceans are being emptied.

To quote Dr. Hilborn, “On the contrary, it is clear that where effective fisheries management is applied, stocks are increasing not declining, and this is true in North America as well as a number of other places. Overfishing certainly continues to be a problem in the Mediterranean, much of Asia and Africa.”

hilborngreenpeace2Dr. Hilborn’s rigorous and peer reviewed research makes clear that fisheries management works. Greenpeace may not like his conclusions, but, their effort to attack the messenger with false accusations should be repudiated by academia, by commercial and recreational fishermen and other environmental organizations.

Dr. Ray Hilborn is one class act.

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