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GBRMPA responds to flawed report allegations

Following up on our news story outlining allegations of conflicts of interest involving a report supporting fishing bans – ‘Scientist says GBRMPA report flawed’ (read story here) – Fisho contacted the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for a response.

In an email to the GBRMPA Fisho asked the following:

  • What is GRMPA’s response to concerns raised by the recreational fishing community and some scientists re potential conflicts that have arisen over allegations that a senior GBRMPA manager, Laurence McCook, is partly funded or supported by the Pew organisation?
  • Many Fishing World readers are concerned that Pew is undertaking campaigns to ban or restrict fishing invarious Australian waters and are concerned that an employee of the GBRMPA could be publicly associated with anti-fishing activities. Could you confirm and/or detail Mr McCook’s association with Pew and outline GBRMPA’s policy on its staff’s association with organisations which promote fishing bans?
  • Could you also respond to recent claims made by scientists (namely Walter Starck) that Mr McCook published a paper which could be considered “biased” against recreational fishing and that it misrepresented other scientists’ research (ie, Heupel et al) in the context of Mr McCook’s employment with GBRMPA and his association with Pew?
  • What are GBRMPA’s policies on disclosure of any such associations? Did Mr McCook outline his association with Pew in his recently published paper? If not, why not?

Late last week the GBRMPA responded via chairman Dr Russell Reichelt with the following press release (reprinted in full):

The following is supplied to Fishing World. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) Chairman Dr Russell Reichelt said the GBRMPA recognises fishing as a legitimate use of the Marine Park. 

“Fishing on the Great Barrier reef is an important pastime and source of income for both Queensland coastal communities and the Queensland seafood industry.”

“While the primary aim of the zoning is to protect biodiversity, a scientifically robust Zoning Plan such as the one in place in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park not only protects the health of the Reef but secures fish stocks for future generations.”

Dr Reichelt said the management of the Great Barrier Reef is based on robust, peer reviewed science, conducted by many of the world’s leading scientists.

“These scientists are based at such internationally recognised institutions as the Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook University and many have been published in the world’s leading scientific journals.”

“There is a significant difference between published, peer reviewed scientific articles and opinion pieces published in non scientific journals and web blogs.”

“Dr Starck has offered an opinion on the report ‘Adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef: A globally significant demonstration of the benefits of networks of marine reserves’, as is his right, however we do not conduct technical reviews of such articles given there are a very large number of them in the public domain.”

“If Dr Starck would like to go through the same stringent editorial processes that the aforementioned report did, we would be pleased to take his published work into account,” he said.

The support provided by various science institutions and charitable trusts (ie. the Pew Charitable Trusts), and the affiliations of all authors were fully disclosed in the report.

The GBRMPA supports its staff in seeking or accepting professional development opportunities such as the prestigious Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation awarded to Dr McCook in 2005.

“As a management and technical agency we strive to ensure our practices are world’s best practice and such fellowships give our staff an opportunity to research and study the very best the world has to offer,” he said.

Dr McCook’s fellowship was for reef resilience and his work involved the Great Barrier Reef and reefs in Indonesia. His work did not involve the Coral Sea, nor does the report mention the Coral Sea.

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