Senior NOAA appointee calls for retraction of paper on illegal fishing

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Chris Oliver

A top US official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who was recently appointed by President Donald Trump, has called for the retraction of a paper that suggests the country exports a significant amount of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

The paper, published July 6 in Marine Policy, estimated that in 2015 approximately one-fifth of Alaska pollock exports to Japan were either illegal, unreported, or unregulated — a value of as much as $75 million.

In an Oct. 11 letter (first reported by IntraFish), Chris Oliver, NOAA assistant administrator for fisheries, criticized the paper’s methodology for calculating the illegal hauls.

Oliver wrote to the journal’s editor-in-chief to say that the National Marine Fisheries Service:

Strongly objects to the authors’ claims regarding US seafood exports to Japan and doubts the validity of the methodology used to make such estimates. 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.

Oliver has some expertise in Alaskan fisheries: Prior to joining NOAA in June, the official oversaw commercial fishing throughout Alaska as Executive Director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, one of eight federally established organizations that manage the country’s fisheries.

A spokesperson for NOAA said neither Oliver nor the agency had anything further to say about the call to retract the paper.

First author Pramod Ganapathiraju, a fisheries consultant at IUU Risk Intelligence in Toronto, and last author, Gopikrishna Mantha, of King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia, did not respond to our request for comment.

Hance Smith, editor-in-chief of Marine Policy, did not respond our question about whether he planned to retract the paper; however, he told us:

Upon receiving these [letters] we normally anticipate debate in the pages of Marine Policy, but do not otherwise comment.

“Many layers of regulation”

The findings in the Marine Policy paper “Estimates of illegal and unreported seafood imports to Japan” may challenge Oliver’s management record during the 16 years he presided over the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. In a July story about his NOAA appointment, the Washington Post reported that both industry and conservation groups supported him, calling it:

The rare Trump appointment that is actually making scientists very happy.

In his letter, Oliver said the Alaska pollock fisheries (as well as US salmon and crab fisheries, which the paper also said contributed to illegal or unregulated exports to Japan) were “among the best managed and closely monitored in the world” (emphasis his), and criticized the authors methods for estimating illegal hauls:

The authors apparently rely on undisclosed data to infer that a small infraction in one fishery (say, for example, an “unreported catch of Alaska pollock in an artisanal fishery” results in exports of [illegal, unreported, and unregulated] products to Japan by a responsible, highly regulated, and closely monitored US seafood industry.

He also detailed a list of methods used to monitor Alaska’s pollock fisheries.

Oliver isn’t the only one to criticize the paper. As reported by Intrafish, industry groups have also spoken out about it:

The At-sea Processors Association (APA), which represents US pollock catchers, joined Oliver in condemning the report.

In a letter to Tony Pitcher, one of the authors of the report, APA’s Jim Gilmore detailed the many layers of regulation, traceability, and sustainable seafood certifications governing the US pollock fishery.

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