Filed Under: Food Scares Seafood

Greenpeace Science: Fishy and Illiterate, As Usual

Relax, lovers of fish sticks, breaded-filet sandwiches, and imitation crab. The ocean’s supply of pollock, the world’s most ubiquitous flaky white fish, is just fine. But you wouldn’t know it from listening to the scientifically challenged activists at Greenpeace. The group warned Reuters this weekend that “the pollock fishery is on the fast-track to collapse” and blanketed the planet with an apocalyptic press release claiming: “We are on the cusp of one of the largest fishery collapses in history.” Scary stuff. Good thing it’s not true.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has a one-word answer to the question of whether pollock are overfished: “No.” And the Marine Stewardship Council certifies pollock from the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea as “sustainable.” So what the heck is Greenpeace talking about?
Last week NMFS released the results of its annual survey of pollock in the Bering Sea. And on the surface, it looks like Greenpeace may have something alarm-worthy. As The Seattle Times notes, the survey indicates that “the 2008 pollock population was 38 percent below last year’s survey levels.”
But this is where Greenpeace and some reporters understand just enough science to be dangerous. Take it from NMFS biologist Jim Ianelli, who conducted the survey. He told Seafood Source that the survey:

“… represents only one piece of the data used in the analysis … Indications are that the 2006 year-class [pollock hatched in that year] are well above average.”

Catch that? Greenpeace is running rampant with what might be the only piece of bad news in a “bigger picture” that looks … well, pretty good.
How did Greenpeace get this so wrong? As Ianelli explained on Friday to Intrafish, ocean temperatures have been dropping for three straight years. This means more of the fish swim very close to the ocean floor to keep warm, skewing the survey results.

“[F]or the assessment numbers that get presented, we only go down to three meters from the bottom,” said Ianelli.
The groundfish survey surveys the bottom, and when those numbers are calculated, estimates were 92 percent of the biomass that was expected, he said.

If you’re wondering why Greenpeace—a group that’s supposed to be well-versed in the science of things warming and cooling—would willfully ignore such a basic facet of fisheries science, wonder no more. It’s all about raising money. Friday afternoon we received an urgent-sounding e-mail from the group, featuring the dire warning that the pollock situation “is clear evidence that we need to act and we need to act now: please click here to donate.”

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