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Fisheries experts join NOAA, pollock companies, MSC in blasting 'made up' IUU report

Top US fisheries scientists question study's 'sources,' and call for a retraction.

A team of top US fisheries scientists has joined the US government in demanding a retraction of a controversial scientific paper that alleges a significant portion of Alaska salmon, crab and pollock is entering the Japanese market from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fisheries.

The group of six US academic scientists familiar with Alaska fisheries and led by preeminent fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington recently sent a letter to the journal Marine Policy saying the paper, Estimates of illegal and unreported seafood imports to Japan, should be retracted.

So far, the authors and publisher have not responded to either Hilborn's or the US government's requests to retract the paper.

Tony Pitcher, one of the paper's authors, told IntraFish a "detailed response has been submitted and the matter is presently under consideration."

In October, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Chris Oliver challenged the veracity of the scientific paper and asked that it be retracted to avoid damaging the reputation of the US fishing industry and its fisheries management.

US official, pollock harvesters condemn IUU report

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NOAA confirmed to IntraFish on Wednesday that the study's authors and publisher have not responded to Oliver's request.

Oliver was joined in his condemnation of the research by the At-sea Processors Association (APA), which represents US pollock catchers, as well as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which has certified both the Alaska salmon and pollock fisheries.

The most recent action by Hilborn and his team of scientists lends new and considerable weight to the controversy.

Hilborn declined to share the content of the letter he sent to the journal, but did say the paper at the heart of the controversy cites several dozen published papers as sources yet none have any mention of IUU fishing.

"The paper also lists a number of 'sources' of IUU such as 'unreported catch in artisanal fisheries' which do not exist," said Hilborn. "As near as we can tell, the paper made up all of its results without any data on IUU fishing."

"The publisher has not yet responded, but last week said they were working on it," Hilborn told IntraFish.

NOAA's Oliver, in his October letter to the report's authors, said the "allegations made in the paper, are absent of transparency regarding the data, and assumptions supporting them are irresponsible and call into questions the authors' conclusions."

"The Alaskan pollock and Alaskan salmon fisheries are certified to both the MSC fisheries and Chain of Custody standards -- rigorous, science-based standards -- and as such it is incomprehensible to imagine any of the allegations in the 'Estimates of illegal and unreported seafood imports to Japan' article have any bearing," said Brian Perkins of the MSC.

The Walton Family Foundation (WFF), which funded the study, has said it reached out to talk with all of the parties to ensure it fully understands the issues.

Science?

The paper offers estimates of the amount of IUU seafood entering the Japanese market, one of the most lucrative in the world, and argues for a traceability program to address the issue.

New US seafood traceability rules are fast approaching -- You ready?

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The study claims that an estimated 15 percent of the US pollock entering Japan is from IUU fisheries. Further, the study says between 10 and 20 percent of the salmon and crab coming from Alaska fisheries is IUU.

Pitcher and the other authors argue for the creation of a seafood traceability program in Japan to thwart what they claim is the importation of seafood produced by IUU fishing activity.

A 2014 paper, Estimates of illegal and unreported fish in seafood imports to the USA, also co-authored by Pitcher, contained similar findings about IUU fish entering the US market.

It also argued for a more rigorous government seafood traceability program.

In January, the United States begins implementation of the new US Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), requiring new reporting and record keeping for certain seafood imports to prevent IUU-caught seafood from entering the US market.

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