Monday, October 08, 2012

There’s being wrong, there’s being really wrong, and then there’s being a volunteer internet “journalist”
Nils E. Stolpe/FishNet USA
October 8, 2012

The New Jersey Newsroom website was formed by journalists and ex-journalists, primarily from the Newark (New Jersey) Star Ledger, with collective experience adding up to “over 1,000 years.” On their site those journalists wrote “our contributing writers, driven by passion and purpose, contribute as volunteers who believe in the cause….'s goal is to provide high-quality news for New Jerseyans and not just about New Jerseyans. We will do our best to gather all the stories you want, regardless of the original sources.”
Impressive sounding, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, at least judging by a recent article on the scallop fishery off the East coast, the content on the site doesn’t come close to living up to its billing. With particular reference to the “contribute as volunteers” quote, an article posted on their website on September 27 is about as good a demonstration I’ve seen of the old adage “you get what you pay for.”
In Jaws for hire: Fewer sharks mean fewer scallops at the Jersey Shore, Robert Kinkead came to some startling conclusions and yet another undeserved and inaccurate indictment of commercial fishing based on 1) a graphical depiction of a marine foodweb from an article referenced in the current edition of Scientific American, Ecosystems on the brink, and 2) his wife not being able to order scallops at Poor Henry’s restaurant (in Montvale, NJ) because, as related by the server, they didn’t have any that day.
From this beginning he crafted an article in just under 800 words that laid out a plausible sounding argument for the fact that an increase in the price and a decrease in the supply of scallops, as so convincingly demonstrated by his wife’s failure to have her first choice entrĂ©e at Poor Henry’s, was due to the unregulated slaughter of oceanic sharks.
Citing the Star Ledger He writes “it’s a near-innocuous business story.  Good news about fishing off Cape May, wherein that port has been named the second most prosperous on the East Coast because rising scallop prices have offset diminishing catches of shellfish.”
But, he continues “increased revenues are due to the growing scarcity of scallops, in turn attributable to a complex change in the predatory food chain off the coast of New Jersey.” The argument is so plausible, in fact, that as of this writing it has accumulated 153 Facebook “likes.”  
Starting out with Scientific American, the foodweb that impressed Mr. Kinkead was derived from research reported in 2007 and 2009 that purportedly showed that a decline in scallop stocks was attributable to a decline in large sharks due to overfishing. (What else would we expect from Scientific American?)
When this research was first published in 2007, there were a few problems with it (see my 2007 National Fisherman  column Of sharks and scallops and questionable science at ). Regardless of the validity of the conclusions reached by the team of researchers, however, the research very clearly dealt with East coast bay scallops, Argopecten irradians. These are small scallops that, as their name clearly indicates, live in estuaries.  
Getting back to Poor Henry’s and poor Mrs. Kinkead, who had to settle for her second choice for dinner, a visit to the restaurant’s website shows that the scallops served there are “Bedford scallops.”
As Mr. Kinkhead accurately relates in his article, the value of landings by commercial fishermen in New Bedford, Massachusetts has led all other commercial fishing ports in the U.S. for quite a few years, and the reason for this is because of the concentration of scallop vessels there. Hence, I assume, Poor Henry’s geographically focused menu items.
Mr. Kinkead informs us that “according to Wikipedia, by far the largest wild scallop fishery in the world is the Atlantic sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) found off the northeastern United States and eastern Canada.”
The scallops landed in New Bedford, Cape May, Barnegat Light and other fishing ports on the East coast the scallops that make up the most valuable fishery in the U.S. are those very same sea scallops.
Not surprisingly, sea scallops spend all of their time – from egg to adult – in the ocean.
Then he writes “according to the (National) Marine Fisheries Service, this wonderful resource is in sad decline.”
Just how much of a decline is the sea scallop fishery experiencing? The below chart, taken from the National Marine Fisheries Service commercial landings online database, shows that landings have been remarkably stable for the last decade. Reductions in allowable landings are currently being considered for fishing years 2013 and 2014, but the fishery is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.
In fact, the most recent surveys (see New Survey of Ocean Floor Finds Juvenile Scallops are Abundant in Mid-Atlantic at have shown that sea scallop recruitment this year was at or near the maximum recorded off the Mid-Atlantic States.
The northeast sea scallop population, at least in terms of large, marketable scallops, appears to be lower that it has been, but measures will be put in place to protect the recruits in the mid-Atlantic, the opening of scallop-rich areas off New England that have been closed to scalloping is being considered, and any reduction in scallop landings will be of a temporary nature.
While Mr. Kinkead did manage to get the part about rising scallop prices right, they are higher than they have been because, most knowledgeable people agree, of the rapidly developing middle class in China and the corresponding worldwide increase in the demand for high quality seafood. They prices have been elevated for the last several years, and as the above chart shows, there has been no decline in the harvest up until 2011. This is a definite contradiction of his “increased (scallop) revenues are due to the growing scarcity of scallops.”

The Scientific American food web dealt with bay scallops and the supposed impact that shark overfishing had on their abundance. Confusedly, Mr. Kinkead supports his thesis that shark overfishing has brought about his “sad decline” of sea scallops, not bay scallops. There is no relationship between the abundance of bay scallops and the abundance of sea scallops. There is no relationship between the price of bay scallops and the price of sea scallops. There is no relationship between the abundance – or lack thereof – of large sharks and the abundance of sea scallops, and there is no relationship between the abundance of cownose rays – the assumed predators on bay scallops and the assumed prey of the supposedly missing large sharks – and the abundance of sea scallops.
As a relevant aside, the fisheries for large sharks in U.S. waters has been so stringently over-regulated that the commercial fishery has all but disappeared. This is one of those bothersome facts that Mr. Kinkead neglected to mention. Another is that the practice of finning sharks, which he certainly didn’t neglect, has been illegal in U.S. fisheries since the passage of the Shark Finning Prohibition Act in 2000.
But he has provided one of the best examples I’ve come across of a little knowledge going a long way. Unfortunately it’s going in a host of completely wrong directions.
Other than as a prime example of inadequate research and even more inadequate fact checking, what’s the big deal about this article, and the dozens of others of similar slant that get “published” on the web each year? Do a Google search on “sharks scallops” and on the first page of results is a link to this article. It’s on the first page for “scallops New Jersey” as well. Search on “Poor Henry’s scallops” and it’s the second listed link. 

How far and wide will the misinformation in this article spread, and for how many years?
To give you an idea, there is an article on summer flounder (aka fluke) that I posted on the New Jersey Fishing website ( in 1999. I haven’t done a thing with the page in the intervening 13 years. That page was visited 1586 times in June of this year. The search strings that got these visitors there was some variation of “fluke fish fishing.” Assuming that the number of visitors has increased steadily over 13 years, the average per month would be around 700 people. In the years that page has been up on the order of 120,000 people have visited it – a page on a website that has not been promoted for over a decade. That’s the curse, of the internet. Once it’s posted it’s there forever, regardless of how close to reality it actually is.
Needless to say, as soon as I read Mr. Kinkead’s article I posted a comment on the web page and sent a message to him via the “contact us” page. In my message to him I invited him to call me. He hasn’t, and the article is still on the New Jersey Newsroom website as it was written, blemishes and all.
I’ll let you know if that changes. But in the meantime, it’s incumbent on everyone in or connected to the commercial and recreational fishing industries to let the publishers, editors, producers, webmasters, writers, bloggers, journalists, etc. know when anything is broadcast, printed or posted that unfairly and inaccurately faults fishing. Fishermen have been the victims of this undeserved assault for over a decade, and it’s well past time that we started to collectively do something about it.
The New Jersey Newsroom provides the email address for feedback.        

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

For information about the February 24 Rally in Washington

The Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund has information on charter bus pickup locations for the February 24 rally in Washington, DC on the website by clicking here. You can also download a printable flyer for the rally at the site.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

If you're unhappy with fisheries management...

and of the ongoing marginalization of fishermen in the management process, you have to ways to protest what's going on. The first of these is to register your dissatisfaction by signing on to a letter to all of the sponsors of the Magnuson Flexibility legislation thanking them for their support and indicating that it is only a start. The letter is linked here. The second is to go to Washington on February 24th to register your dissatisfaction in person (the letter will be presented to the sponsors then). It appears commercial, recreational and party/charter fishermen from across the US will be there.

I'll have more information on the DC rally within a few days.

Thanks for your attention,

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Times They Are a-Changin'

It’s been a long time coming, but it appears as if a critical number of fishermen have finally reached the conclusion that the way things are heading, there’s not going to be an acceptable fishing future for any of us, that it’s time for some long overdue changes, and that the place to effect those changes is in Congress.
It’s really difficult to identify all of the major factors responsible for this, but among them I’d list the excessive and in-your-face obvious influence on the Obama Administration’s NOAA/NMFS by foundations with a long track record of actions inimical to fishermen, the looming crisis (of management, not of fish) in the New England groundfish fishery, the sorry state of the economy for us mere mortals who haven’t benefitted and won’t benefit from any bail-out $billions, massive fishery closures or cutbacks without adequate science behind them, an ongoing investigation of what appears to be institutionalized strong-arm tactics in the federal fisheries enforcement branch, and most importantly, the unnecessary and incessant erosion of our ability to fish – either recreationally or to earn a living – by a management system that is focused solely on the fish and that we as fishermen are now effectively isolated from.
And I can’t forget the role that a long list of coastal legislators – most have already been mentioned here - in Washington and elected and appointed officials in Massachusetts have played in demonstrating that the ongoing overzealous, verging on punitive, management of fishermen is becoming far more of a threat to fishing communities than declining stocks ever were.
One of the most edifying byproducts of the management morass that the majority of U.S. fishermen are mired in is the growing cooperation between people in the commercial, recreational and party/charter industries, the businesses that depend on them and the communities that they support. Are we one big happy family? No, and we probably never will be, but every day more of us are realizing that there’s a common enemy that we’ve allowed to take control of the management process while we’ve been almost totally focused on throwing rocks at each other.
What’s the payoff of this nascent spirit of cooperation? On Capitol Hill, in no particular order of importance:
* New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone and twenty-four co-sponsors reintroduced the Flexibility in Rebuilding America’s Fisheries Act. New York’s Charles Schumer introduced corresponding legislation in the Senate.
* Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank announced a caucus of East Coast legislators to discuss the modifying the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Congressman Frank said “the effort was justified because of the unrequired harm being done to the fishing communities along the Atlantic coast by regulators who misinterpret the legal principle imbedded in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to balance ecological with economic and sociological interests.”
* Fourteen House Members and twelve Senators sent letters to the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior objecting to the CITES listing of spiny dogfish.
* Thirteen House members and five Senators sent a letter to the Secretary of Commerce expressing “extreme disappointment” in the New England Council’s decision to severely cut back sea scallop landings.
* The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee unanimously approved Maine Senator Olympia Snowe’s International Fisheries Agreement Clarification Act (S. 2856), relieving the management of trans-boundary groundfish stocks in U.S. waters from the irrationality of what the Magnuson management regime has become. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House.
* Florida Congressman John Mica and 16 cosponsors introduced legislation to prevent the Secretary of Commerce from closing the red snapper fishery without further analysis.
There is a core group of federal legislators from Texas to Maine who now realize that things are far from well in fisheries management, and that the problems don’t lie with the fishermen but rather with what the Magnuson-Stevens Act has been turned into by foundation funded activists and how it is being interpreted by NOAA/NMFS.
It’s up to all of us to capitalize on that.
Inspired in part by the successful fishermen’s demonstration at NOAA/NMFS Northeast Regional Office that was organized by Amanda Odlin, a fisherman’s wife and business partner in Scarborough, Maine, a number of fishermen’s groups from both sides of the recreational/commercial fence are organizing a demonstration on the steps of the Capitol on February 24. With fishermen of every stripe participating, the message to Congress will be straightforward; put the original flexibility back in the Magnuson Act that will allow the needs of the fish to be balanced with the needs of the fishermen.
And make no mistake; this is a result of grass roots activism at its most pure. No massive corporations, no “charitable” trusts, no foundation funded ENGOs are behind it, just commercial and recreational fishermen, the businesses that they support and the trade organizations that support them.
But what’s the other side up to?
They’re sure not about to enter into a public discourse, seek acceptable compromises with the aggrieved fishermen or find some middle ground that will let fishermen fish and let fishing-supported businesses remain viable while stocks continue to rebuild. That’s not what their billions are for. Instead those organizations that have made life so miserable for so many fishing dependent people for so long are going to respond as they have since they became involved in “saving the oceans from fishermen.” They’re going to throw even more money at what they perceive as a growing problem; the increasing awareness in Washington that fisheries can be and should be rebuilt in a manner that is consistent with maintaining viable fishing communities.
Accordingly, we learn from the Careers@Pew website, since December 1 the folks at the Pew Charitable Trusts have been looking for a “Manager, Federal Fisheries Policy Reform Campaign.” Among the responsibilities for this position:
* The campaign will provide financial support to key NGOs for campaign assistance. This project manager will be responsible for determining the nature and amount of this support
* Oversee and manage campaign staff and environmental, commercial fishing and recreational fishing NGO consultants. The campaign will provide financial support to key NGOs for campaign assistance.
* Working with PCT (Pew Charitable Trusts) and PEG (Pew Environment Group) public affairs staff on messaging and media strategy, the project manager will help ensure that communications and outreach are used to advance the campaign’s overall goals.
* The project manager will be responsible, in consultation with the project director, for identifying and contracting with scientists, legal experts, economists, polling firms, communications and other technical specialists as necessary to provide information, prepare reports, brochures or other documents as required to advance the campaign goals (from
What greater example do we need of the difference between real grass roots and astroturf? Need a fisherman, a scientist or an environmentalist to help you spin? Write a check. Buy one or two or a dozen. Want to manipulate the media? The Pew PR machine – backed by Pew’s tens of millions of dollars of media grants – will lend a hand. With billions of Big Oil/high tech dollars to draw from, a couple of decades of expensive successes under their collective belt and access that few enjoy to what I’d guess are excessively sympathetic ears at the highest levels of NOAA/NMFS, why would we expect them to do otherwise? And they have a bunch of people in Congress from inland states who have proven more than susceptible to their well oiled anti-fishing spin machine in the past. That’s why we’re in the position that we’re in today, with a mutated Magnuson-Stevens Act that gives scant consideration to the people and businesses involved in fishing and every consideration possible to the fish – which time after time have been shown to be far more resilient (how many fish stocks are “recovered” or on their way to recovery? How many fishing businesses that have gone bankrupt have come back?)
As applied to fisheries management, without Congressional intervention government “of the people, by the people, for the people” might well perish, to be replaced with checkbook activism. We’re most of the way there already.
When the Magnuson Act was written over 30 years ago, the intent wasn’t to have fisheries managed from the Board Rooms of multi-billion dollar foundations but from the docks, the marinas and the beaches where fishermen – let’s not call them fishers – were plying their trade or pursuing their sport. That’s the way it was and that’s the way it can be again, but not without your serious support and participation, no matter what your fishery.
Have a great holiday and I hope to see you in Washington.