Recent revelations regarding the use of “dodgy” science by the US-based Pew Charitable Trust in its push for Australia’s Coral Sea to become the world’s largest no-fishing zone have reportedly rattled local marine conservation activists.
However, Fishing World’s ongoing investigation into this issue has uncovered information which suggests Pew should be used to this sort of adverse publicity. It seems that Australians are not alone in their mounting dislike for this giant American conservation group and its extremist views on the need for vast no-fishing zones throughout the world. Others in the Pacific have also been exposed to Pew’s philosophy on marine conservation, and it seems they have also become aware of issues relating to misinformation, deception and blatant bully boy tactics from the oil money funded Pew.
In the Marianas Islands, in the northern Pacific, a letter to the Saipan Tribune (see http://www.saipantribune.com/newsstory.aspx?cat=15&newsID=90204) enlightened Fisho to the fact that Australian anglers are not alone in their dislike for Pew’s methods. In his letter, John Gourley alerts readers to the fact that “the Pew Environment Group has returned to the Marianas to continue pushing their non-science-based environmental programs and anti-fishing agenda. However this time, Pew is lurking behind its alter ego, a local Pew-financed group called ‘Friends of the Monument’.”
Gourley highlights a fact that has become increasingly apparent here in Australia and around the world: namely that Pew’s tentacles have forced their way into numerous other marine environmental groups. This is not surprising when you consider how badly most of these smaller groups need funds to survive. Hand-outs of oil money guarantee that Pew has the ready availability of splinter groups and “alter egos” to back up its agenda in Australia and many other countries. Indeed, while several environmental groups, including WWF, were originally backing a more moderate and reasonable approach to management of the Coral Sea, it seems in recent times that they appear to have fallen in behind Pew and are now backing the full 100 per cent 1 million km2 fishing closure position.
But Pew’s influence does not stop there. Recent press releases by the CSIRO have revealed that leading young scientists have received Pew Fellowships in Marine Conservation worth $150,000. (see http://www.csiro.au/news/Marine-scientist-wins-prestigious-Pew-Fellowship.html for details). Is Pew now infiltrating our scientific institutions using the same methods by which they have persuaded our local marine conservation groups to toe their line?
While the fact that infusions of money are very influential to cash-strapped environmental groups is obvious, the situation becomes murky when it comes to PEW supporting science. We now have a leading up and coming Australian scientist receiving $US150,000 of Pew Fellowship money over three years to model how marine biodiversity is affected by pressures such as overfishing and climate change. However, as Fisho’s Marine Biology editor, Dr Ben Diggles explains: “The problem with these types of models is that they are only as good as the integrity of the data that is used, and they rely on the assumptions of the modeler. I can assure you that in the case of this PEW/CSIRO fellowship, although the researcher may have the best intentions, it will be impossible to accurately determine ‘how marine biodiversity is affected by pressures such as overfishing and climate change’ using a model without utilising a huge but equally accurate database. They will also need to have a detailed understanding of how pollution in particular (but also many other variables besides fishing and climate change), ultimately affect biodiversity. I can tell you, there are many factors that affect fisheries and marine biodiversity that we are only just becoming aware of now, and it will take many years to sort out how important these factors are in the overall picture. Then there are the many unknowns. To achieve such a lofty goal within three years, the researcher will need to make many assumptions, not all of which may be correct.”
Diggles’ caution over possible scientific compromise due to the Pew funding is shared by RecFish Australia chairman Frank Prokop. “Modelling research relies on the integrity of the scientist who, for a period of some years, is supported by handouts from Pew,” Prokop said. “Given that scientists are only human, the possibility for skewed or tainted results is very real, unless they have the scientific and personal integrity to be completely objective throughout.”
However, based on the reports from the Marianas Islands, integrity appears to be in short supply at Pew. Gourley states in his letter” “Since the designation of the Marianas Monument in January 2009, (Editor’s note: which banned commercial fishing but allowed sustainably managed traditional and recreational fishing) Pew has decided they don’t like what the CNMI government negotiated. So Pew is reneging on their original promises and has resurrected their original ‘no-take’ monument proposal to again push it on the people of the Marianas.”
Then there is the quote by Pew boss Josh Reichert in the US-based Sport Fishing magazine (see http://www.sportfishingmag.com/species/conservation/pews-reichert-talks-to-anglers-1000071919-page-1.html). Reichert told SF editor Doug Olander: “We have repeatedly made clear that we are not in the business of trying to close off the world’s oceans to recreational fishermen.”
How does the integrity of this comment sit with Australian anglers when locally Pew is unwavering in its commitment to closing 1 million km2 of the Coral Sea to all fishing? This is 1 million km2 of prime tropical sportfishing environment which could support sustainable sportfishing forever if suitably managed, especially if the Marianas precedent was followed.
It comes as cold comfort to know that we are not alone. In the Marianas Islands, Gourley finishes with a scathing attack. “If the people of the Marianas have learned anything from the 2008 Pew monument campaign fiasco, it is that any promises made by Pew or their representatives mean absolutely nothing. Pew has shown no integrity or one ounce of respect to the people of the Marianas or their culture. The only thing the schoolyard bully has been straight with us about is that they are here to take away our fishing rights, any potential right for oil, gas and mineral extraction and give it to the federal government to ‘properly’ manage, according to Pew preaching. I can’t help but wonder how the indigenous people of the Marianas survived for all these thousands of years without Pew around to tell them what to do.”
Given the Australian Government has signaled it is not in favour of locking anglers out of the Coral Sea by going on record as saying it was keen to achieve a “balance point” over the area’s future, there is still time for Pew to back down from its extremist approach on the Coral Sea. It would certainly save the reputation of many local environment groups if it did so sooner rather than later.