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LETTER: Repackaging flawed IUU science needs to stop and Walton Foundation can help

Retraction of controversial IUU science paper shines light on academic rigor.

The following letter was sent to IntraFish by Jim Gilmore, director of Public Affairs for the US-based At-sea Processors Association, in response to the article, "Controversial IUU science paper finally retracted."

I read with interest IntraFish’s story of Jan. 9, “Controversial IUU Science Paper Finally Retracted.”

This is certainly a welcome development given that the original paper was thoroughly discredited by US government fishery scientists and managers, a host of academics who are actually knowledge about the US fisheries maligned by the original paper, and US seafood harvesters and processors.

While news of the retraction is welcome, our reaction is tempered by professor Pitcher’s statement that the withdrawn paper will be resubmitted to the journal Marine Policy for publication.

Controversial IUU science paper finally retracted

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For over a year, Marine Policy’s review policy has been as opaque and non-transparent as professor Pitcher’s research methodology. It is difficult to assess at this point whether professor Pitcher and his colleagues have cured two obvious deficiencies with their research.

First, as a half-dozen academics from US West Coast and Alaska universities revealed, professor Pitcher and his co-authors committed "data fraud" by making assertions in their 2017 IUU paper that are not supported by sources cited in the paper.

Second, professor Pitcher and his co-authors made damaging allegations about Alaska seafood products marketed in Japan, while hiding behind anonymous sources—reminiscent of that unfortunate period of McCarthyism in the US in the 1950s.

Unless professor Pitcher has either reformed his approach or deleted all references to US Alaska pollock in retracting and resubmitting his paper, the Alaska pollock industry will not be satisfied. We will continue to press the issue until the specious allegations are withdrawn and an apology issued.

The heart of the matter is that professor Pitcher and certain colleagues have been repackaging and publishing papers on IUU fishing for almost a decade, all based on a flawed methodology. This rent-an-academic approach to support e-NGO lobbying efforts in the policy arena is flawed and needs to be rethought by the foundations funding this work.

Going back to the “all fish will be extinct by 2048” nonsense that foundations funded and promoted relentlessly, much of the agenda of the sustainable seafood movement is built on shoddy academic work and slick media relations.

While much of the damage to the seafood industry’s reputation over the past 20 years can’t be undone, at least this specious IUU work can be corrected. It requires the Walton Foundation, which to date has proven to be a constructive partner with e-NGOs and harvester interests alike, to do the right thing and commission an independent review of professor Pitcher’s IUU methodology before more misleading information is published in academic journals.

While the Walton Foundation failed in its due diligence and assumed that foundations funding IUU papers prior to professor Pitcher’s 2017 paper were funding responsible research, it’s not too late to make things right.

IUU fishing is a serious issue. Let’s work together to address the issue. But let’s move on from unsupportable, alarmist claims from shoddy academic work that impugn the integrity of commercial fisheries that are leading the way on catch accountability and transparency in the marketplace.

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