In December 2016, we featured a post by Michael Melnychuk discussing his recent paper examining worldwide fishery management. The paper used interviews with fishery experts around the world to review fisheries management in different countries around the world. Since then, the paper was criticized by Slooten et al (2017), claiming that the interview subjects for New Zealand were biased in favor of the fishing industry.
Melnychuk and co formally responded to the claims last week. In this post, co-author Ray Hilborn furthers a response to the criticism.
Comment by Ray Hilborn, University of Washington
Slooten et al. (2017) begin their critique by suggesting our survey was based on “opinion” and that our survey respondents were strongly biased towards commercial fishing interests. Both of these are incorrect. Our survey covered very specific elements of the fishery management system and included questions like “are stock assessments conducted for this species?” These are not opinions but matters of fact. Most questions on the survey were of this nature and required a detailed understanding of how specific species were managed.
Seven people completed the survey; of these, three have current or past links to environmental NGOs. Two currently work for the government or its research laboratory, one is a private consultant who has worked largely for the fishing industry, and one is a consultant who has worked largely for Maori fishing interests. There was no significant difference in the evaluation of NZ fisheries based on the background of the respondent.
There have been several previous comparisons of fisheries management systems around the world (which we cite in our original paper) and New Zealand always comes out among the top countries. Pauly and Alder (2008) (Pauly was one of the authors on the Slooten et al. critique) ranked countries quality of management of their EEZ and New Zealand was rated #1. Dirk Zeller, also one of the authors of the Slooten paper, was a coauthor on a previous paper that had New Zealand rated as one of the best fisheries management countries in the world. Indeed in the Mora paper, New Zealand was rated better than the U.S., Iceland, Norway and Russia, which were countries that ranked higher than New Zealand in our study.
Pitcher et al. (2009) looked at whether countries’ fisheries management systems were compliant with the FAO code of conduct, and again New Zealand was evaluated in the top 10.
Worm et al. (2009) evaluated the performance of the New Zealand system favorably as demonstrated by the following two quotes from that paper: “However, only in the California Current and in New Zealand are current exploitation rates predicted to achieve a conservation target of less than 10% of stocks collapsed.” and “The inherent uncertainty in fisheries, however, requires that agencies act before it comes to that stage (overexploitation SIC) … this is especially true in light of accelerating global change. We found that only Alaska and New Zealand seemed to have acted with such foresight.”
Also, Daniel Pauly has previously commented on the relative strength of the New Zealand management system: “Researchers must use studies that do not represent a grossly biased sample, drawn from the well-managed fisheries of a few countries or regions at the world’s end, like Alaska or New Zealand.”
We agree, which is why our FMI survey was designed to be applicable not only to countries at such “ends of the world,” but also to countries in between. We found, as Pauly suggested, that New Zealand fisheries are among the best managed in the world; most other countries could improve their fisheries management by emulating New Zealand.
The Fisheries Management Index (FMI) survey concentrates on how fisheries are managed, but much of the criticism by Slooten et al. (2017) concerned lack of studies of environmental effects of fishing on other parts of the ecosystems. This simply was not a focus of the survey (as emphasized in the title of our PNAS paper: “Fisheries management impacts on target species status”). With respect to managing the harvest of target species, New Zealand is one of the better countries in the world. The first step in good ecosystem based management is to manage the fish stocks in a sustainable way and this is essentially what our survey covered.
Slooten et al. (2017) argued that management of smaller fish stocks in New Zealand is not as intensive as the larger stocks, and that the survey examined only large stocks. Our survey covered 19 fish species in New Zealand constituting 73% of NZ catch. Five of these were small stocks with catch less than 1,000 tons. It is certainly true that New Zealand, like all countries, devotes most of its management efforts to larger and more valuable stocks. The semi-randomized sampling scheme, which gives more weight to larger and more valuable stocks but also ensures the inclusion of some smaller stocks, was consistent across all countries.
In summary, the assertion by the authors of the letter to PNAS that the people who completed our survey was biased and rated the New Zealand fisheries management system artificially high, simply does not stand up to comparison based on other published evaluations which also rate the NZ system highly. The New Zealand system could certainly be improved, both with respect to smaller fish stocks and more research on the environmental impacts of fishing.