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Scientists, Alaska industry still waiting on retraction of controversial Walton Foundation-funded IUU report

NOAA exec Chris Oliver and other fisheries scientists continue to wait for Marine Policy journal to address serious allegations related to the veracity of claims in an IUU report it published.

It has been eight months but 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.

"We’re still waiting on a decision from the publication," a NOAA spokesperson told IntraFish on June 29, when asked if a retraction was ever supplied to Oliver.

In October, Oliver challenged the veracity of a scientific paper in the journal Marine Policy and asked that it be retracted to avoid damaging the reputation of the US fishing industry and its fisheries management.

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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, 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.

"The status is simply that we have been waiting for additional reviews of the paper. I expect we shall be able to progress shortly," Hance Smith, editor of the journal Marine Policy, told IntraFish on June 22. He provided no further timeline for or details pertaining to the review process. And he did not say whether Oliver would be receiving the retraction he requested in October.

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

Last week, Jim Gilmore of the APA said the questions surrounding the accuracy of the paper have gone on long enough and need to be addressed.

"The more questions that get asked of the papers’ authors, the less clarity is provided and the more anonymous sources are cited—sources that lack specificity and whose knowledge and credibility seems suspect, at best," he said.

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The paper was funded by the Walton Foundation, which has largely skirted the fray. But Gilmore called on the foundation to take a lead role in resolving the controversy surrounding the IUU report's findings.

"We are hopeful that the Walton Foundation, which got caught up in this by funding only this most recent in the series of misleading IUU papers, will conduct and publish a thorough, independent review of the methodologies used and claims made," Gilmore told IntraFish.

"We can’t let these unreliable analyses of IUU fishing continue to misinform the public and policymakers. There’s an obligation to prioritize a ground-up review and make things right."

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 in December. "As near as we can tell, the paper made up all of its results without any data on IUU fishing."


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.

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The study claims an estimated 15 percent of US-controlled Alaska 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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