Fishery Research Bypasses Peer Review

One of the biggest issues that will be brought before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council during its quarterly meeting Oct. 1 through Oct. 9 at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Anchorage has a really long title.

It is “Proposed Amendment 94 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area to Require Trawl Sweep Modification in the Bering Sea Flatfish Fishery, Establish a Modified Gear Trawl Zone, and Revise Boundaries of the Northern Bering Sea Research Area and Saint Matthew Island Habitat Conservation Area 1.”

Wheww. That is lengthy.

The long and the short of it are this. The yellow fin sole and other flatfish fishery wants more area in the Bering Sea to fish in. This because they say that the fish they want to catch is moving north due to climate change in the Southern Bering Sea.  

Greenpeace has a different opinion.

And they want to use a “modified gear change to their fishing gear” that a scientist from the National Marine Fisheries Service says “will lower the substrate destruction in this fish prosecution.”

This is the “modification” that they are talking about. They are putting rollers on the cable that drags along the bottom of the ocean to lift that cable two inches off the bottom so “other life on the bottom” will not be disturbed. Presumably, that means the huge trawl net held together by the cables won’t drag on the Bering Sea floor as much. But it will still drag some. And to what degree it will lessen the destruction of the ocean floor is unknown.

Now we must ask some questions about this proposed change in the Bering Sea Fishery Management Plan. One is: Why wasn’t there any peer review done of the research that supports the gear modification and the opening of habitat that was previously designated a no-trawl zone by the council?

The second question has to do with the NPFMC proposing to open a northern research area right next to St. Matthew Island. The area would benefit these hard-bottom trawlers and would be about the size of Rhode Island. The question is: Are there any other oversight issues and federal and state agencies that need to be consulted?

And finally: Do the people who are to be most affected by this change — Bering Sea communities who depend on ocean resources — need notification and consultation before a final rule is made?

Based on my research, a peer-review process is required by statute. It should have been done before the findings supporting the modified gear and expanded fishing area were made public.

According to a news release in 2003 from the Office of Management and Budget, whenever any federal agency is involved in any research,  “…all significant regulatory-science documents will be subjected to peer review by qualified specialists in appropriate technical disciplines.”  

In a discussion I had with the researcher, I was told there had been no peer review.  

Also the Data Quality Act passed by Congress requires federal agencies to issue guidelines ensuring the quality, utility, objectivity and integrity of information that they disseminate and provide.  

I am wondering if this has been done.

It is time for the owners of this most precious resource, We The People, to ensure that how these resources are used to line the pockets of a few multinational big business companies do so while following the laws we all have to follow. And to ensure that any federal agency responsible for any research done to seemingly support these big business companies, do the same.
George Pletnikoff is Unangan, born and raised on St. George Island, and now works for Greenpeace as an oceans campaigner.

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