COMMENT: Show us the science, Senator Brown

In an article published on on August 2, we reported that “the leader of the Greens, Senator Bob Brown, has stated there are ‘no sharks, tuna and marlin left'”.

Those words came from a press release sent in to Fisho by the organiser of a rally aimed at protesting against plans by anti-fishing groups to create massive no-go zones around the Australian coastline.

We published that press release in good faith as we felt our readers would be interested in the issue.

Senator Brown’s media advisor Ben Oquist yesterday contacted Fisho demanding that we immediately issue an apology. It seems that Senator Brown didn’t say there are “no sharks, tuna and marlin left”. He actually said “we have lost 90 per cent of the great fishes including marlin, tuna and snapper”.

It goes without saying that we’d obviously much rather publish accurate facts than not. So we are happy to clarify that the original published statement “there are no sharks, tuna and marlin left” is incorrect when compared to Bob Brown’s actual comments.

Apart from semantics, however, is there really much difference between the two statements? The Greens obviously think so. A clearly miffed Mr Oquist called again this morning again asking that we publish an apology and threatening legal action if we didn’t.

While we accept the need to clarify the matter, we don’t see any need to apologise as we maintain that the meaning of what we published is factually supported by Senator Brown’s original statement. Both statements – the misquoted one and the one that Bob Brown made on national TV – imply that fish like marlin and tuna are either gone or so far gone as to be pretty much stuffed. Thus it’s not hard to take the view that both fundamentally mean the same thing. That is, Bob Brown has publicly asserted that Australia’s “great fish” are on the verge of extinction.

The issue here isn’t that we erroneously published info from a well-meaning fisho who incorrectly transcribed a statement made on Nine News. Nor is it about a cranky PR hack in election mode wanting a clarification of what his boss said or didn’t say.

Rather, the crux of the matter is Bob Brown’s use of sensationalist claims to score political points.

It is important here to know what, if any, scientific data Bob Brown used to support his statement that marlin, tuna and snapper have declined by 90 per cent.

According to the Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party: “There is no foundation for these claims in Australia – there is simply no credible science to support these statements and Bob Brown needs to realise that he is out of his depth and ignorant of the facts when he talks about marine matters.”

It seems likely that Senator Brown used a scientific paper published in 2003 by Meyers and Worm as the basis of his claims regarding marlin and tuna. This paper has been widely discredited in the scientific literature, and has been shown to be grossly inaccurate and sensationalist.

It’s important to also note that this paper did not refer specifically to Australian fisheries.

On Brown’s claims that we have lost a major percentage of the three aformentioned species, boating journalist David Lockwood wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, “The problem with his statement is that green-around-the-gills voters take it as gospel. Like the Pied Piper, they seem to want to be led to a fate hastened by a diet of second-rate imported farmed seafood from Asia.”

Read Herald story in full HERE.

Senator Brown and his media advisors need to be taken to task for the use of discredited and inaccurate information as a sound grab for the mainstream media. At best it smacks of political opportunism, at worst it shows a disregard for the truth.

Senator Brown seems to have put his honesty in further doubt when he claimed that snapper had also declined by 90 per cent. There’s no evidence at all to indicate that any Australian snapper stocks have fallen by anything close to that figure. Where did Senator Brown get his information to make such a statement?

Data published by Queensland Fisheries indicates that snapper populations in SE Queensland are estimated to have reached a trigger point of less than 40 per cent of the virgin biomass. This means more focused management arrangements will be needed. Fair enough. I’m sure Queensland Fisheries has the job in hand. But this scientific data doesn’t support Senator Brown’s claims for 30 per cent of Australia’s coast to be closed to fishing.

So where does Senator Brown get off in claiming that 90 per cent of snapper have been fished out?

Senator Brown’s wildly exaggerated claims in this regard should be seen as nothing more than inaccurate political bullets being used as ammo in the Greens’ current election campaign to ban Australian anglers from wetting a line.

By embarking on this sort of campaign tactic, Senator Brown seems to be indicating that he has no issue with using dodgy data in an attempt to win votes. His sensationalist claim that “we’ve lost 90 per cent of snapper stocks” shows that he’s even prepared to lie in order to achieve his political goals.

Senator Brown should immediately apologise to the Australian public for making these spurious and unsubstantiated claims.

We’ll keep you updated on this issue.

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