Fishing for Citations

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Charles The Moderator, who is the man whose endless work keeps this site ticking over, pointed me to an interesting happenstance involving the world of commercial fishing.

Now, I spent a good chunk of my life fishing commercially off the west coast of the US. This included:

• Three seasons fishing on a lampara net boat for pompano out of Santa Cruz.

• Two seasons fishing on a lampara net boat for anchovies out of Moss Landing.

• One season fishing on a leased salmon troller out of San Francisco.

• One season fishing on an albacore bait boat out of Sausalito.

• One season fishing beach seine for surf perch in Tomales Bay with the mad artist Clayton Lewis. Here’s the bad boy himself with the net and the boat.

• Three seasons trolling for salmon with a partner in a 21 foot (6m) steel sailboat out of Bodega Bay.

• Half a season fishing for crab out of Eureka. Not recommended, the bar at the mouth of Humboldt Bay has eaten lots of boats and fishermen.

• Two seasons gill-net fishing for salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

• One season gill-net fishing for herring in San Francisco Bay.

• One season purse-seining for herring in the Bering Sea, home of the “Deadliest Catch”.

• One season as a sport salmon guide on the Kenai River, Alaska.

So with that history, as you might imagine, when Charles pointed me to a controversy in the fishing world, I was most interested. It all relates to a paper published by Cabral et al. entitled “A global network of marine protected areas for food”. Here’s their Abstract


Marine protected areas (MPAs) are conservation tools that are increasingly implemented, with growing national commitments for MPA expansion. Perhaps the greatest challenge to expanded use of MPAs is the perceived trade-off between protection and food production. Since MPAs can benefit both conservation and fisheries in areas experiencing overfishing and since overfishing is common in many coastal nations, we ask how MPAs can be designed specifically to improve fisheries yields.

We assembled distribution, life history, and fisheries exploitation data for 1,338 commercially important stocks to derive an optimized network of MPAs globally. We show that strategically expanding the existing global MPA network to protect an additional 5% of the ocean could increase future catch by at least 20% via spillover, generating 9 to 12 million metric tons more food annually than in a business-as-usual world with no additional protection.

Seems pretty bland, protecting the fish, what’s not to like? … but here’s what’s at the heart of the madness, a retraction from the publisher, PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America:

Retraction for Cabral et al., A global network of marine protected areas for food

PNAS October 26, 2021 118 (43) e2117750118;

See original article:

ECOLOGY, SUSTAINABILITY SCIENCE Retraction for “A global network of marine protected areas for food,” by Reniel B. Cabral, Darcy Bradley, Juan Mayorga, Whitney Goodell, Alan M. Friedlander, Enric Sala, Christopher Costello, and Steven D. Gaines, which was first published October 26, 2020; 10.1073/pnas.2000174117 (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 11728134–28139).

The editors are retracting this article. The authors note the following:

“Following publication, we were informed of a data error from the version of the RAM database (RAM version 4.44 and older) that we used in our paper. An updated version of the RAM database exists (RAM version 4.491) that corrects this error, and, notably, the fisheries status of some RAM stocks are improved relative to prior versions. In particular, the inclusion of the erroneous unassessed Trachurus trachurus stock from the older version of RAM used in our analysis led to an overestimate of the potential food benefit from expanding existing global marine protected area (MPA) coverage. Notably, catch benefits from MPA expansion are still positive and substantial once the erroneous stock is removed from the analysis, and the qualitative conclusions of our work remain the same. However, we have been informed that the changes to our results arising from the data error have cast doubt over the outcome of the peer review process, ultimately leading to the retraction of this paper. We intend to submit a corrected version of the paper elsewhere.”

The editors also note that the article’s editor, J.L., recently published a related paper with the article’s authors and has a personal relationship with one of the authors, both of which are disallowed by PNAS editorial policies.

May R. Berenbaum

Hmmm … sounds kinda innocuous. They used an old database instead of the updated version, but the conclusion are the same. Oh, and “J.L.” has both a professional and personal relationship with the authors, which are against the PNAS policies.

So … what’s happening under this bland vanilla surface?

Well, to start with, “J.L.” is Jane Lubchenco, not just any unknown scientist.

Jane Lubchenco, a well-known Oregon State University distinguished professor and a former Obama administration official, has been appointed a top climate change science role under President Joe Biden.

Last week, Lubchenco was named the deputy director for climate and the environment for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. In her role, Lubchenco will focus and lead efforts on climate change and environmental challenges we are currently facing that include health, economic recovery, equity, and sustainability.

Under Obama, she was the Administrator of NOAA and Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. And now she’s selling climate alarmism for the Biden Administration.

As a result, she must know that it’s not ethical for someone who wrote a paper with some of the authors of a new paper under PNAS consideration to be an Editor for that new paper. Bad scientist, no cookies.

And as to the “personal relationship” with one of the authors … it’s not like he’s just her friend or co-worker or something.

He’s her brother-in-law.

And the errors in the paper were not just the use of an outdated dataset, as the authors claim. There were two submissions to PNAS pointing out huge logical errors in the paper. Here’s the first one:

Increasing fisheries harvest with MPAs: Leaving South and Southeast Asia behind

 View ORCID Profile Ray Hilborn

 See all authors and affiliationsPNAS April 27, 2021 118 (17) e2026410118;

Cabral et al. (1) estimate that putting 5 to 90% of the global oceans in no-take marine protected areas (MPAs) could increase global marine capture food production by 20%. Their model assumes that closing a portion of a stocks range can increase yield if stocks are subject to overfishing, but yield for a stock will necessarily be reduced by any closed areas if it is not subject to overfishing. They also use a previous paper (2) to estimate the status of stocks in 2050 under what is called the business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. This scenario estimates that the maximum sustainable yield for the 7,845 stocks analyzed was 76.6 million metric tons (MMT), and at the fishing pressure estimated for 2050, the realized yield would be 58.2 MMT so there would be the potential to increase yield by more than 20%. Of this potential, 44% comes from South Asian countries including India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, and the Philippines.

However, Cabral et al. (1) (in their figure S4) show no MPAs in these countries’ coastal waters when 20% of the global ocean is closed, and their yield maximized closure pattern has only a small area near China closed. Furthermore, we know from Hilborn et al. (3) and Hilborn and Costello (4) that there is almost no potential for MPAs to increase yield in North America or Europe because few stocks in those regions are subject to overfishing, yet their yield maximizing MPA pattern shows extensive MPAs in those places.

This is simply not credible and must cause us to doubt their results. A key reason for this unlikely result is that almost all of the potential increase in catch comes from species where they assume the entire global range is closely connected by both larval and adult dispersal. Thus, these stocks are equally exploited over their entire range, and a closure anywhere in their distributions benefits all other parts of their distribution. This is biologically impossible, especially when the global range of the species spans different oceans. MPAs in the Atlantic cannot possibly benefit fish stocks in the Pacific, and yet this is what the authors assume.

Finally, their results rely heavily on the BAU scenario and 75% of the potential benefits of MPAs come from 28 species, many of which are assumed to be nearly extinct under the BAU scenario. This too is not credible. Fisheries management for most of these species is improving, and the pessimistic assumptions of the BAU scenario is not supported by what is observed on the fishing grounds. For instance, since the study by Costello et al. (2) was published, many countries such as Russia, Peru, Chile, and Japan have reduced the fishing pressure on their stocks (3).

The inexplicable failure to place MPAs in South Asia and the overestimation of the amount of overfishing in the BAU scenario mean that the results of this paper simply cannot be accepted.

As Ray Hilborn points out, their results are “simply not credible” … tru ‘dat …

The second submission pointing out errors, by Ovando et al., is here. Inter alia it says:

Any global model must make simplifying assumptions, but the assumptions made in Cabral et al. (1) are not necessary and produce misleading results. A global model of MPAs must consider biological constraints of movement and spatial heterogeneity of fishery institutions. Reducing the effective range of populations by following the same stock structure as Costello et al. (4) would be a start in this direction, but explicitly modeling the role that distance plays in ecological and economic responses to MPAs would be preferred. Either of these approaches would be computationally intensive but feasible and, we suspect, would produce markedly different results from the findings Cabral et al. currently report.

And these problems should have been visible to anyone reading the Cabral paper. Here’s why. Fisheries all around the US are well protected via a host of overlapping Federal and State regulations and laws. As a result, there’s no need for additional protection of the type proposed by Cabral et al.

However, the areas off of China and Southeast Asia are some of the least protected and most heavily overfished waters of the planet. But here’s where Cabral et al. want to protect first:

Bizarre … they want to start by protecting all of the waters off of the US, and basically nothing off of Asia … say what?

For me, there are two big lessons from this episode:

• Do not trust government scientists. Far too often they are in thrall to political masters rather than scientific principles, and the pressure to trim their sails to the political winds is often irresistible.

• Trust in science in general is at an all-time low … and people like Dr. Lubchenco are very high on the list of reasons for that. She’s now wandered off into politically-driven climate alarmism … why am I not surprised?

Anyhow, that’s the hot news from the world aquatic. You’ve heard of “Post-Normal Science“? … sadly, we’re now well into the world of “Post-Abnormal Science”.

My best to all, seafolk and landlubbers alike,


As Is My Custom: I ask that when you comment, you quote the exact words you’re referring to, so we can all be clear exactly who and what you are discussing.

Further Reading: There’s an excellent overview of this entire goat-rope at the University of Washington Sustainable Fisheries site.

via Watts Up With That?

December 21, 2021 at 08:17PM

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