Why Peter Young and his “Last Ocean” Travellers are Hypocrites

Gareth MorganEnvironment, Fisheries Management

Why Peter Young and his “Last Ocean” Travellers are Hypocrites

Why Peter Young and his “Last Ocean” Travellers are Hypocrites

Peter Young used to plunder and exploit fisheries with no regard for their sustainability. Then he was “born again”. Sometimes there is nothing worse.

I admire his current campaign to “lock up” the Ross Sea region so there is no fishing there at all. In fact I’d like huge tracts of the world to be similarly “locked up”, not just those that guys like Peter and I and you don’t access ourselves so we can take the high ground like ecological priests.

Now let’s get real.

If just one of the countries that belong to CCAMLR were to adopt the stance of The Antarctic Oceans Alliance or Peter’s Last Ocean then we will very quickly see all the toothfish taken from the Ross Sea. That is ecological vandalism as we are seeing with whaling. And here’s the reason. CCAMLR requires all 25 members of CCAMLR to agree on a policy for it to be adopted.

A blanket ban of toothfishing is simply not going to be agreed to so the consequence is we will get no agreement and it will be open season. That would be terrible. This is precisely what happened when the Green Extreme influenced Australia to the extent that it opposed all whaling. No agreement to lower limits was possible so the Japanese carried on and now we have other nations lining up to resume whaling.

What I find totally unacceptable is Peter and others in the Green Extreme are aware of this as the likely outcome, yet still the press on with their inflexible position. We are risking annihilation of the toothfish as a consequence of their intransigence. It is totally irresponsible.

The business of sustainability is serious, balancing ecological protection with human economic and social development is what societies have to do continually. But alas, the skill of a cynical film maker’s agenda to manipulate public opinion to suit his own ends, knows no bounds. Peter is a great cameraman, no doubt and we should all doff our caps to that particular skill. But a great cameraman does not a balanced analyst make.

I’ll make it quite clear. If Peter Young really believed the line his movie spins, he would be aghast at the practices around the New Zealand coast, he wouldn’t be wringing his hands in mock despair about the Ross Sea, he’d be making noise about just how deficient the management of our own fisheries here are. We don’t even take a “whole of ecology” approach when setting catch limits. By contrast CCAMLR does when setting the limits on the toothfish take.

As they say, people in glasshouses shouldn’t biff things. But hey, let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good movie project.
Peter and his mates need to respond to the following;

  • The toothfish fishery is highly rated by the Marine Stewardship Council, a joint venture between WWF and the fishing industry. Indeed more highly rated than any NZ fishery. Could he please outline precisely why the MSC is wrong on toothfish?
  • NIWA, the science institutes of other CCAMLR countries and the science panel of MSC are all doing science on this fishery. Why is their science not credible please? And further why are the observations of a couple of guys pole fishing through a hole in the ice apparently “science”? Yeah right.

Playing fast and loose with a serious issue like capping the exploitation of a fishery, all for the sake of promoting a film project, in my book isn’t far short of playing environmental roulette. The hypocrisy is even deeper given the silence on how bad our own fisheries management is.

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UPDATE – Response to questions..

Geoff asked me a question on Facebook (see below) which I wanted to respond to but It was a little too long for Facebook…

Geoff wrote: “Gareth – are these scientists you referred to the same ones you described as refusing to put their research up to scrutiny when in fact it was just completing peer review and is now published in a reputable journal?”

In reply….

Hello again Geoff,

I’m not sure what scientists or reputable journal you’re referencing as you’re not explicit. All I can tell you is what we were referring to and what your group has been championing for over four years now. It is a paper entitled: “Decline of the Antarctic toothfish and its predators in McMurdo Sound and the southern Ross Sea and recommendations for restoration” by A.L. DeVries, D.G. Ainley and G. Ballard (USA) (WG-EMM-08/21) was submitted in 2008 to the Working Group on Ecosystem Monitoring and Management (EMM) held in St Petersburg, Russia between 23 July to 1 August 2008.

That 2008 group comprised 35 scientists from 11 countries, of which eight were from the United States of America (from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the National Science Foundation – Office of Polar Programs). The 2008 Working Group reviewed the paper as submitted and also a letter authored by 25 Antarctic scientists. The findings of the meeting are presented in full below.

[quote style=”1″]6.22 WG-EMM-08/21 also presented daily sightings of killer whales from a lookout at Cape Crozier on Ross Island during December and January of each year from 2003 to 2007, and noted that killer whales have become infrequent since January 2006. Lastly, the paper presented data on the proportion of P. antarcticum in the diet of Adélie penguins since 2003/04, noting that the proportion of P. antarcticum in their diet in 2007/08 was the highest in the 5-year time series presented and was similar to 1996/97. On the basis of these observations, the authors concluded that the fishery has caused a trophic cascade at McMurdo Sound. The paper recommended that the catch limit in the fishery be reduced, including a moratorium on the shelf, until the McMurdo Sound toothfish population is restored and a program is in place to monitor ecosystem effects of the fishery.

6.23 WG-EMM-08/20 was a letter authored by 25 Antarctic scientists in regard to WG-EMM-08/21 on the decline of D. mawsoni from McMurdo Sound. They express concern that this is the first sign that the Ross Sea ecosystem is being irreparably altered, and that several extensive time series of unequalled climate records and responses of the biota to climate change are in jeopardy of being compromised. They state that five time series each extending for more than 40 years have been ‘blindsided’ by the impacts of overfishing. The time series include annual counts of Adélie and emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri), benthic community composition and growth, Weddell seal demography, and toothfish prevalence as indicated by scientific catch rates. The paper recommended a steep reduction in the catch limit in the fishery, including a moratorium on the shelf, until the McMurdo Sound toothfish population is restored and a program is in place to monitor ecosystem effects of the fishery.
General discussion

6.24 The Working Group identified several inconsistencies in WG-EMM-08/21 which required further elaboration by the authors:
(i) The authors noted that they have caught 4 500 fish over a 30-year period (1971–2001), implying an average catch of 150 fish per year. This is inconsistent with the claim that total captures once numbered 200–500 fish per year before exploitation started.
(ii) The authors also claimed that they chose 1987 as a ‘typical year in catch results’ for the pre-exploitation period. However, as shown in Figure 6 of the paper, the catch in that year was 412 fish – this is not a typical year if the average was only 150 fish.
(iii) There were several other inconsistencies in the text. For example, the caption to Figure 7 states that 10 sets were made in 2001 – however, a total of 29 sets were reported for 2001 in Appendix 2 of the paper. Also, the paper stated that in 1996/97, vessels fished off Cape Crozier for long periods (page 12); however, in that year, the first year of the exploratory fishery, the total catch of toothfish was 6.25 The apparent decline in toothfish catches coincided with a change in the scientific fishing location. Although the authors state that catch rates were similar before and after the change in fishing location, not enough detail is presented to determine whether this is the case. Furthermore, although the text says the new site was only 0.5 km from the original site, this is not consistent with the scale on the map shown in Figure 4 of the paper or with it being a distance of 4 km from McMurdo Station. The physical and environmental features of the two sites with respect to bottom depth, current, substrate, temperature, distance from the edge of the fast-ice etc. should also be provided. Commercial catch rates are very dependent on fishing location, therefore it would be surprising if this was not the same for a research fishing site.

6.26 In considering the above issues, the Working Group was unable to adequately assess the conclusions of the paper at the current time. It requested the authors to provide the following historic data on:
(i) the location, number of sets, number of hooks, number of fish caught, soak-time, and CPUE (number of fish per set) by day, month and year for all years since sampling started in 1971. Other details such as weight of fish caught, fate of fish (e.g. kept, released, tagged) and bait used each year would also be useful;
(ii) the length-frequency distribution – perhaps grouped over 2- or 3-year intervals;
(iii) specific details of the two sites with respect to bottom depth, current, substrate, water temperature, distance from the edge of the fast-ice etc.

6.27 The Working Group also noted that the evidence for a switch in Adélie penguin diet was rather weak. Although the highest percentage of P. antarcticum in the diet occurred in 2007/08 (55%), the lowest percentage of P. antarcticum in the diet had occurred the previous year (32%). The Working Group further recalled that research carried out by Emison in the 1960s suggested that the annual proportion of P. antarcticum in the diet of Adélie penguins ranged from 40–60% (Emison, 1968).[/quote]

Rather than dismissing DeVries’ findings as unscientific and incomplete which really they could have, this group of internationally recognised scientists reviewed the paper (a comprehensive form of the peer review), and found that due to inconsistencies and lack of information that they were unable to adequately assess the conclusions of the paper and requested that the authors (including DeVries and Ainley) provide specific information in order to facilitate an assessment and recommendation.
As you’re well aware the science has moved along considerably since 2008 including surveys being done continually as is required by the Marine Stewardship Council for example, let alone required under CCAMLR itself. Scientists from NIWA, amongst others are engaged in this work.

Geoff I’m sure the latest research you refer to (whether it’s a rework, update or elaboration of the DeVries original or some new stuff) will have been eagerly received by the CCAMLR science group – anything that actually adds to the knowledge around this fishery is most welcome, that’s the nature of science. And of course should it credibly point to a conclusion that “no-take” is necessary to sustain the fishery then of course that should be what CCAMLR and MSC would recommend.

Why Peter Young and his “Last Ocean” Travellers are Hypocrites was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
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Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.