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August 11, 2011

CCC chief: Pew misinformation campaign reaches new low

An editorial by Jeff Angers

by Jeff Angers
President
Center for Coastal Conservation


In what has become a veritable campaign of misinformation, Pew Environment Group issued yet another statement in support of setting annual catch limits on marine fisheries species without the benefit of science-based assessments. Taking the campaign to a new level, Pew is now revising history to make its points:

“Holly Binns, director of the Pew Environment Group’s Southeast Fish Conservation Campaign, issued the following statement [Aug. 8] in response to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s 8 to 5 vote to approve plans to prevent overfishing that protect dozens of species by setting science-based catch limits.

“‘The council has taken a forward-looking approach that allows managers to set scientifically sound fishing limits now before species suffer population declines. This proactive strategy is necessary to avoid what happened with South Atlantic red snapper, which is in such severe trouble that a fishing moratorium was needed in 2010 to save the species.’

“‘This plan will help avert steeper restrictions in the future, setting a course towards restoring a healthy, balanced ocean ecosystem. It is like visiting the doctor for preventive care, rather than waiting until you end up in the emergency room.’”

There are so many misstatements of fact in that statement, it is hard to know where to begin. For starters, there is nothing “scientifically sound” about setting catch limits without the benefit of a stock assessment. Those catch limits are going to be set by SWAG — scientific wild-ass guess –   which doesn’t necessarily bother an environmentalist but does strike a nerve with anglers and others who actually use America’s public resources.

Second, the South Atlantic red snapper crisis came about precisely because NOAA Fisheries neglected to do a stock assessment for decades — the exact course of action Pew is advocating now for all marine fisheries. In a sense, the Council managed that fishery by SWAG and got it horribly wrong, so wrong that when they finally did do an assessment, they almost had to close the bottom of the entire South Atlantic to fix it. And ironically, if I recall correctly, Pew was very much in favor of that closure.

Third, as exemplified by South Atlantic red snapper, nothing about setting limits based on SWAGs is going to prevent managers from having to enact steeper restrictions in the future when and if an assessment finally shows them how radically wrong those limits are. And, in the most gaping fault with Pew’s logic, once the catch limits are set without an assessment, there is no motivation for managers to spend the money and resources to actually examine the state of the stock with an assessment. Red snapper became a crisis after the stock assessment. If they had never done an assessment — and NOAA Fisheries has shown a systemic reluctance to expend resources on assessments in recreational fisheries — red snapper would still be heading merrily down the drain, and no one would be the wiser.

Pew likes to say that managing this way is “preventative” medicine, and it’s better than ending up in the emergency room. In reality, they are advocating exactly the opposite. They are advocating that you never visit the doctor, never run any tests, never draw blood or have an x-ray. And by time you realize there is a problem, you go straight to the morgue.

That is no way to manage a fishery.

There are rational ways to manage wildlife resources that are employed all over this country. Anglers are seeking the same for marine species, no more, no less. But we are not going to get there by revising history and distorting reality.

-Jeff