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NOAA exec still waiting for retraction of controversial IUU report

Study alleges a significant portion of Alaska seafood headed to the country emanates from IUU fisheries.

US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Chris Oliver is still waiting for 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.

In October, 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.

In December, a team of top US fisheries scientists joined the US government in demanding a retraction of the paper.

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

Although no word has come yet regarding the retraction, a NOAA spokesperson told IntraFish there is dialogue between the report's authors and publisher and the agency.

"The authors of the paper have responded with some additional clarification of their work," according to a statement from NOAA Fisheries.

"While NOAA Fisheries appreciates the authors acknowledgement that exports of IUU product from the US to Japan were misrepresented and overstated, it continues to take issue with several remaining assertions regarding potential sources of IUU products from US fisheries and the operational realities of seafood supply chains. NOAA Fisheries will continue to work with the authors and publisher to ensure accuracy of the paper's conclusions."

Tony Pitcher, one of the paper's authors, told IntraFish "the Marine Policy journal has gotten back to us with an acceptance of our response letter and a suggestion that it is published alongside the original letters of complaint that were submitted through the journal.

"It's still not clear if that is going happen, but we have agreed at our end," he said. "The whole thing is based on a misunderstanding of what we did, and what we have suggested via the journal should make that more obvious."

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Oliver was also 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.

Hilborn, in December, said 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."

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, regional director of the Americas for 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.


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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