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LETTER: 'I defend my work'

One of the author's of a controversial scientific paper defends his work.

The following letter was sent to IntraFish by Tony Pitcher, co-author of the scientific paper "Estimates of illegal and unreported seafood imports to Japan, in response to the opinion column "A retraction is not enough" published recently

Your editorial has a number of inaccuracies, and I hope you will reconsider your descriptions of these parts of the work.

1. The 2 percent IUU figure is as the product leaves the US. Because of product mixing in Chinese (and probably North Vietnamese) processing factories, the figure in the product chain as it enters the Japanese market rises to the higher percentage we gave in the original paper. It would be almost impossible to try to disentangle the percentages further. The plan is to include both tables in the revised paper (this new table has been ready for a year), and you will see that the IUU figures as product leaves the US are very low. As I stated very early on in this correspondence, there was never any intention to cast aspersions on US fisheries, which, as I myself have published, have one of the highest compliance scores with the UN Code of Conduct in the world.

LETTER: A decade’s worth of shoddy academic work

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2. Of course, our US paper from 2016 used a similar methodology based on interviews (how else would you try to do this?), but the similarity ends there because that work focused on estimating foreign IUU fish entering the US market, none of which came from US fisheries. The general methodology dates from the paper I published jointly with the then science head of the Marine Stewardship Council, David Agnew, who visited UBC for 10 days while we jointly developed the methodology and world-wide database. So a more accurate adjective would be "understandably" other than "uncannily."

3. Much of the work is based on estimating product flows from a large number of interviews with correspondents from many countries who understandably wish to remain anonymous and who were asked to give three estimates for the issues they identified: the biggest they think applies, the smallest, and the average. There are few alternative methods that will provide actual estimates of the extent of IUU. It is amazing that Hilborn complains that cited publications do not give actual IUU percentages: there are very few such publications for obvious reasons, and so reliance on confidential information is essential if it is to be done at all. Uncertainty in this type of estimation is large and we fully account for that. Hilborn himself has little knowledge of this area and most publications on the "roving bandits" and organized international crime have come from the group working out of Stockholm and ourselves.

I defend my work as I am concerned that we try to put this right.

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