Time to Stop Telling Fish Stories

By John R. Gauvin – August 21, 1997

Written in response to “The Fish Crisis”
By J. Madeleine Nash, Time Magazine – August 11, 1997

Your August 11, 1997 story, “The Fish Crisis”, presented erroneous information to your readers.  Regarding the statements made about the groundfish fishery in the North Pacific, nearly all the “facts” presented in your story were taken from a Natural Resources Defense Council paper that parroted Greenpeace’s 1996 “Sinking Fast” report.  Greenpeace’s fundraising pamphlet maligning the vessels that fish in the North Pacific fabricated all kinds of wild claims about nets that can, as reported in your story, “swallow a dozen 747s”, as well as allegations that the U.S. pollock fishery uses nets that “indiscriminately draw in creatures that swim or crawl alongside, including halibut, Pacific herring, Pacific salmon, and king crab”.  The fact of the matter is that the groundfish fisheries off Alaska are the best managed fisheries in the world, and specifically the U.S. pollock fishery is the cleanest fishery in the world.  Furthermore, the U.S. North Pacific groundfish fishery is the only fishery in the world where all vessels over 125 feet are required to have National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) observers on board at all times to record catch and collect biological data.  NMFS is a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA).

Greenpeace is trying to use misinformation to create a pariah and a new victim for the Greenpeace revenue-generating PR machine.  Greenpeace is attempting to increase donations which have decreased significantly in recent years as the public has become more aware of their politics, tactics, and what the “green” in Greenpeace really means.  Time magazine should not get caught up in that.

Fortunately, in its September 18, 1996 letter to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, NMFS bluntly refuted all Greenpeace’s claims.  In addition to the point by point refutations of Greenpeace’s allegations, NMFS summarized by saying: “Management of the Alaska Groundfish fisheries maintains total harvest within specified groundfish quotas.  Incidental catch of halibut, crab, salmon, and herring are restricted through bycatch quotas.  Fisheries are closed when quotas are reached”.

Next time you want to do a story involving the fisheries of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, please check out the facts and learn a little more about the subject.  For example, Alaskan “trawlers” are not the ones being accused of catching salmon that spawn in Canadian rivers, those are Alaskan trollers (hook and line fishermen), gill net, and purse seine fishermen.  Frankly, the issue has nothing at all to do with the groundfish fishery.  Also, please spend a little time reading NMFS’s refutation of “Greenpeace science”, and take a look at NOAA’s Our Living Oceans  (annual publication), where data are presented to document that the groundfish fisheries of the North Pacific are the healthiest in the world.  Please don’t let your magazine be suckered by the pedantic fundraising pamphlets of Greenpeace and Greenpeace wannabes.

John R. Gauvin