Environmental bullies: How Conservation Ideologues Attack Scientists Who Don’t Agree With Them.
Tuna Lab @Large Pelagics

Molly Lutcavage seems to say that people are “bullies” if they don’t like what you say. Then she goes off about a 25-yer old letter that she cannot find, but apparently she remembers — not liking what I said. So does that make her a bully by her definition?

I actually don’t remember a letter. It’s not in my files. What is there, though, is a formal review of her study by a trio of scientists from Australia, California, and New York, concluding that Lutcavage’s study was, in so many words, a waste of money (Polacheck T, Pikitch E, Lo N, 1997, Evaluation and recommendations for the use of aerial surveys in the assessment of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. ICCAT Working Document SCRS/97/73,41pp).

Lutcavage doesn’t tell us that “her” most recent study (Richardson et al, in which many of the 9 co-authors are NOAA employees) drew an extraordinary rebuttal from — NOAA employees! It also drew a critique from me because Molly’s illogical conclusions spoiled what might have been an interesting paper. Here’s the original paper and then scroll, scroll, and on page 16 the NOAA scientists write saying why it’s claims are not supported by the data, then on p. 18 is my own critique of the original paper https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B94Btgc3NNKfUFRxNmNPM3dxemM/view.

My more in-depth critique of Richardson et al, showing their distortions of references and unsupported assertions, is here: https://medium.com/@carlsafina/bluefin-tuna-new-study-doesnt-hold-water-6aa066d036f7#.c9bh818au.

You can read all that and understand why there’s this debate. For some, it’s easier just to call me names.

I love good science and when I saw the title of Richardson et al.’s study I was at first jazzed to think that my understanding of depressed bluefin tuna populations — the accepted science — was going to be shown to be unnecessarily gloomy. Wouldn’t some good news be a relief? Wouldn’t that be exciting! Then I actually read Richardson et al and realized the numerous ways that data and references were distorted to fit pre-formed conclusions.

Lutcavage asserts that some people (e.g. me) believe only what they like to hear. But I believe a lot of what I don’t like, if the evidence is convincing. I don’t like data showing that Bluefin tuna are depleted. But that is the generally accepted science (it reflects what I’ve seen on the water for 50 years, and I think the methods in use for four decades give an useful index of changes in abundance over time, from a drastic depletion in the 1960s through 1980s to a low leveling and perhaps some recent increase). I don’t like that the abundance is still far down compared to when I was a kid. So I am often forced by evidence to believe what I don’t like.

Conversely, I like Lutcavage’s conclusions that bluefin tuna are in much better shape than all the other data show. I like Lutcavage’s conclusions that bluefin tuna breed younger, and breed over a vaster area than all the other data show. I like Lutcavage’s conclusions that bluefin tuna breed mainly in a huge area she has discovered. I like all that. I just don’t believe it.

I don’t believe it because the data don’t support those assertions. Maybe she’s right. When views diverge so much, they can’t all be correct. Maybe I’m the one who’s wrong. If so, I am in the company of many others who’ve studied Bluefin tuna for decades.

Lutcavage’s rant is a lot of empty lashing out and mental cavitation. It’s unsupported because: 
 • She goes on and on about a 25 year old letter that she can’t find and that I don’t remember; she can’t actually show us what it might have said.
 • She blames me for saying that bluefin tuna were depleted when I used the Atlantic tuna commission’s (ICCAT) own reports, put together by many government people and fishing industry hired-guns. She neglects the fact that tuna fishermen were the driving force behind the establishment of the commission because they were alarmed by the sharp decline in Bluefin tuna abundance.
 • She says I “struck gold” when I was appointed to a fisheries management council… as if — what? 
 • She doesn’t actually say what I actually ever said — except she correctly quotes me once at the end; I did say that she has spent much of her career searching for another major spawning area (which is what “her” study, Richardson et al is in fact about, so what I said is true); 
 • And — playing the gender card (I am in fact a proud feminist.) 
 • Then she turns on Barbara Block, a Stanford professor who is another MacArthur ‘genius’ fellow recipient (and a woman). So, some smart people of both genders don’t agree with Lutcavage… hmmm.

• She acts as though she’s “the scientist,” ignoring the fact that many of her critics are scientists and we have PhDs and work at universities. I’ve published a variety of peer-reviewed papers about bluefin status, spawning, and management, and wrote extensively about it in a book that was a multi-award-winning New York Times book of the year. 
 The first time I ever met Molly was memorable because it was a small meeting where I was anxious to meet her as a scientific colleague. Inexplicably, she wouldn’t look at me or say hello. And that was before the letter that she can’t find.

So who are the bullies here? The ones who read carefully, check into references, and respond in detail? Or the ones calling me names and repeating unsupported assertions to defend unsupported claims. As for bullying, I’ve gotten death threats from fishermen. Very recently a fishermen wrote me a death wish. Has Molly ever been threatened by an environmentalist? I don’t think so.

I’m far from the only one concerned about Bluefin Tuna depletion. For instance, months after “Molly’s” study (Richardson et al.) came out, this was published in July 2016 in the ICES Journal of Marine Science:

Forty years of fishing: changes in age structure and stock mixing in northwestern Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) associated with size-selective and long-term exploitation

By M. R. Siskey, M. J. Wilberg, R. J. Allman, B. K. Barnett, D. H. Secor

Abstract. Over the past 40 years, northwestern Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) have experienced high rates of exploitation, targeted fishing on the largest size classes of the population, and an unknown degree of Mediterranean-stock contribution. Lack of recovery despite targeted rebuilding efforts by management prompted an evaluation of the population for changes in age-structure, size-at-age, and stock mixing over three samples (1974–8, 1996–2002, and 2009–14) coinciding with a cycle of exploitation that initially targeted smaller fish, but then showed strong selectivity for the largest and oldest members of the population. Ages and mixing levels were estimated using port- and observer-sampled otoliths collected by the US National Marine Fisheries Service. A comparison of age structure between the 1970s sample and two later samples indicated strong age truncation had occurred, where both mean age (13, 4, and 7 years) and mean length (191, 166, and 159 cm curved fork length) declined among samples. In addition, minor changes in size-at-age were detected among the three samples. Otolith stable isotope analysis indicated fluctuating stock composition, with a substantially higher contribution of Mediterranean-origin fish in the 1990s (48% eastern stock contribution) than in the 1970s (0% contribution) and the most recent sample (4% contribution). Higher mixing and severe age truncation in the 1990s indicated that the northwestern Atlantic population was at a depressed state. Reduced mixing and a slightly expanded age structure in the most recent sample could suggest that recovery has begun. Still, to evaluate the hypothesized cycle of collapse and modest recovery more rigorously, an integrative assessment framework is needed to consider the dynamic nature of stock productivity, trans-oceanic migrations, and fishing selectivity.

Lastly, Molly Lutcavage and others repeat the trope that those who don’t agree with her are hyping for money. Well, ahem, she finished a recent comment with this naked plea for cash: “We need to do a better job of defending the science and experts under attack from idealogues and their organizations. Obviously, this can’t be done without significant funding for independent research and grad training. Isn’t it time for major donors and their philanthropic organizations to support the science needed to fill gaps in understanding? Paying only for conservation outreach, lobbying and “ocean sanctuaries”, when we lack basic information on species and their ecosystem dynamics, puts the cart before the horse.”

In other words, she’s saying, ‘don’t give your money to them, give it to me.’ (http://cfooduw.org/environmental-bullies-conservationists-or-agenda-pushers/)

So—if Molly is going to keep writing about people who don’t agree with her, she’s going to be very busy.

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