Fryday Fryup – 1 July

July 1, 2016

Welcome to the FryUp – a regular look back at the week of fishing in the news.

Fishing for answers
The University of Auckland’s catch reconstruction report continues to upset officials across the country and you’ve got to wonder why.

Have a look at the fishing section on the MPI website and you’ll find an extensive rebuttal of the report, lots of explanations as to why it’s wrong and lots of explanations as to why the fishing industry is fine just the way it is.

This is astonishing, given MPI is the ministry charged with overseeing the industry, not with defending it, and here at FryUp HQ we find it alarming that they seem to have forgotten that role.

We’re not the only ones though.

Randall Bess is a research fellow at The New Zealand Initiative, an economic think tank, and he’s concerned by the gap between the University’s report and the assessments conducted by NIWA, which are a lot lower in terms of the percentage of fish dumped at sea.

Dr Bess rightly points to the “observer effect” – that is, if you think you’re being watched your behaviour changes. As he says in the Stuff article below:

“We have only received an official discard rate based on a very small, selective portion of New Zealand’s fishing history, which is likely the most positive sample possible.”

“The New Zealand public would likely not tolerate this type of selectiveness in other official reporting, such as the rate of workplace accidents, the road toll, or suicide rates.”

Which strikes us as very true. It is a dangerous path away from impartiality in science when we start using self-selected data to justify policy decisions. Rather than attack the messenger, in this case the researchers, we need to be looking closer at what they are saying and what it means for the future management of our valuable marine fisheries.

It turns out, attacking scientists is a time-honoured tradition (for want of a better term) and one which is causing a great deal of alarm among science communicators.

Industry capture of science and scientists associated with their industries appears to be growing and partly it’s a result of our “user pays” model. Why should the government (and we, the tax payers) fund research into a given industry when that industry will benefit from it? Surely we should make that industry pay?

The problem with that logic is it leads to researchers who work “for” the industry, not for the better good of the country as a whole and that’s clearly what’s going on at MPI.

Simon Hendy is a renowned science communicator who has just published a book on this issue called Silencing Science. He calls for the public to have access to science and research on the same basis as industry or government agencies.

The Education Review has taken a look at the issue (see the link below) and quotes Hendy saying:

“In this case I guess MPI is an organisation that know its goals are very much aligned with economic growth, and so its goals are aligned with industry… and then we find that sure enough, the evidence it’s using is the evidence that tends to favour industry. I think it’s important for MPI not only to be funding the stuff it’s comfortable with, but also perhaps funding the stuff it’s uncomfortable with.”

Now that’s a view I think we can all get behind.

Stuff – Fishing for answers to the gap between the official fish discard rate and a study’s findings
Education Review – Are New Zealand scientists too scared to say what they think?
And speaking of alarming research:
MPR News – 1 in 10 people may face malnutrition as fish catches decline

Things you’d rather not see on your line
A catch is a catch and I’m sure we’ve all pulled up some oddities in our time with the rod, but this is definitely one I’d throw back.

To quote the Herald story:

“A bizarre fish with “human teeth” has been plucked from a large pond in the historic city of Tula in western Russia.”

The fish appears to be a “pacu” which is normally found in South America but which is often used as a pet because they’re cute when they’re small.

However:The pacu is feared by fishermen in its native South America for its powerful jaws, which can “rip off a man’s testicles with a single bite”, earning it the nickname ‘The Nut Cracker’.

I think I’ll stick with goldfish.
NZ Herald – Fish with human-like teeth caught in Russia