Seafood industry claims ‘junk science’ in CSIRO bycatch study
TWO seafood industry associations have condemned a recent CSIRO article published in the famous Natural durability review titled “Bycatch rates in fisheries largely influenced by variation in the behavior of individual vessels”.
Authors Roberson and Wilcox presented their work: “Fishery bycatch continues to drive the decline of many threatened marine species such as seabirds, sharks, marine mammals and sea turtles”.
Research went on to conclude that some fishing vessel captains were better than others at minimizing their bycatch of protected species and concluded that this Australian finding, “…is [an] untapped opportunity to reduce the negative environmental impacts of fishing with interventions targeting specific performance groups of individuals, supporting an alternative perspective towards global fisheries management.
Three of the five fisheries studied are located in southeastern Australia, these are the Commonwealth shark longline, shark gillnet and trawl fisheries. These fisheries are represented by two industry associations, the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) and the Southern Shark Industry Alliance (SSIA).
The research claims to use bycatch data of protected species from Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) observers, comparing it to individual catches of target fish by vessel.
SETFIA and SSIA said the analysis then incorrectly suggests that thousands of albatrosses, petrels and other protected species are killed each year by the fishing industry.
SETFIA and SSIA argue that the article’s estimates are implausible given that the gillnet and longline fisheries have operated 100% video surveillance for over 5 years and that these independent images show a very low number of bycatch of endangered species. In addition, trawling has almost eliminated the bycatch of seabirds.
In accordance with its policy, Natural durability released the 60,000 rows of raw data used in the analysis. SEFTIA and SSIA said it was immediately obvious to the fishing industry that most of the data came from “sightings” – instances where seabirds and other sea creatures happily flew or swam past the vessel and were noted by observers.
On April 11, two days after the fishing industry questioned the data, it was withdrawn by Sustainability of naturey for privacy reasons.
Industry has tried to convince CSIRO that its data is invalid. CSIRO wrote to SETFIA explaining that they were trying to have public access to the Nature article “blocked”.
Simon Boag, chief executive of two associations representing these fisheries, said: “The fishing industry is tired of junk science, this work is not up to the normally high standards of CSIRO. CSIRO has been a long-standing strategic partner and is the world leader in fish stock assessment using genetics and acoustic monitoring.
On May 6, three weeks after the data error was discovered, the ABC aired a radio interview with Ms Roberson in which she said that bycatch species may not be managed, that the volumes of bycatch may be higher than targeted catch and that fishers were incentivized to lie when reporting bycatch.
Boag concluded, “We demand that CSIRO compel the authors to immediately cease making defamatory statements in the media that they know to be false. Rather than alleging that the fishing industry is lying, CSIRO should focus on explaining why video monitoring data was not used and how these images showing very low levels of bycatch somehow sort been organized to become thousands.
“We call on CSIRO to issue an immediate retraction of the article with an explanatory note explaining why sightings of unharmed sea creatures near fishing vessels have been included in the bycatch.”
“The fishing industry is proud of our record of mitigating bycatch of protected species and notes the hundreds of thousands of dollars taken from the industry to pay for video surveillance proving it. The Australian Fruit Consumer de mer should not believe the estimates in the article,” Boag said.