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Below is an email transmitted over the "Fish Folk" network. It makes many of the points I do. Note that it takes a Canadian to admit the truth (of course he doesn't get NMFS funding).
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Date:         Wed, 23 Oct 1996 10:01:08 -0800
Reply-To: jcrutch@rockisland.com
Sender: Fisheries Social Science Network 
From: "James A. Crutchfield" 
Organization: Natural Resources Consultants Inc.
Subject:      Re: Industry criticism of biologists
Comments: To: gadus@istar.ca
To: Multiple recipients of list FISHFOLK 

Trevor Kenchington wrote:

 HELP!! I have been trying to make sense of the torrent of responses to
 Shaun's request for scientific support for the fishing industry but
 they keep on coming faster than I can digest them :-o

 I _can_ see that (to paraphrase the Immortal Bard) I am doing the
 worse for my friends and the better for my foes. As with Olivia's
 jester, some friends have kindly praised my efforts, while some foes
 have pointed our my errors - thus giving me a chance to learn. But my
 case is worse than that which Shakespeare envisioned: Dave Crestin
 (who I hope I can class as a friend) is busy re-interpretting my
 earlier contribution to this thread as support for a statement that
 government stock assessments reliably yield exact predictions (!) and
 even as a call for severe cuts in the New England groundfish fisheries
-- thus cutting me off from one of my company's profit sectors while
 simultaneously alienating all the clients that I have been working so
 hard to attract! Thanks Dave ;->

 Before I lose all hope of future work, I will try to re-state the
 secondary message in my earlier posting (my support for the
 precautionary principle seems to have been understood, though not
endorsed, by all). I truly hope:

 1: That Shaun is able to find stock assessment scientists willing and
 able to work with him.

 2: That those scientists will do their work to the best of their
 ability, seeking objective truth (whatever _that_ is) rather than just
the short-term interests of their particular clients.

 3: That Shaun and his organization are willing to support such
 re-assessments.

 Perhaps I should now add a fourth hope: That all members of FishFolk
 will refrain from pre-judging Shaun's intent. While those of us who
work for the fishing industry must be cautious about the motives of
 potential clients (sometimes it is better to decline work than to be
 caught in compromising situations), it seems that some contributors to
 this thread have simply assumed that Shaun is looking for
 pseudo-scientific ammunition for a political battle with NMFS. That is
 not fair. As he has said in his follow up posting:

> The industry seeks a credible relationship a biologist [snip]
 > specifically to square the fisherman's empiracle observations based
 > on decades of experience with the current dismal biological
 > _projections_.

 which seems like an entirely reasonable objective to me. If I seemed
 to start this unwarranted prejudice by wording my own posting badly, I
apologise to Shaun and the list.

 ---------------------------------

 Since Dave Crestin has defended the excellence of NMFS assessments and
 even Jim Kirkley has confined himself to a cautious declaration that:

> There have been incidences in which the assessments have been less
 > than perfect, even though the scientists were of the highest
 > quality.

 I should elaborate on why I think the fishing industry needs access to
 its own scientific support.

I have never looked closely at a U.S. stock assessment but I have
 examined a great many Canadian ones, plus a number from elsewhere.
 Overall, and without wanting to point to specific cases, I think that
 a sizeable fraction of them fell short of meeting the highest
 standards of the trade (let alone the standards required for effective
 fisheries management!). Of course government stock assessment
 scientists are as likely as the rest of us to make mistakes but that
is not, I suspect, the primary cause. Rather, in any profession, only
 a few practitioners can be truly world leaders. Stock assessments deal
 with specifics of local situations and the handful of top-class
 individuals cannot do all of the work personnally. Thus, a gradation
 of quality is inevitable.

 Government agencies naturally have review processes that are supposed
to iron out these problems and achieve the excellence that Dave
 Crestin claims for NMFS but, in my (non-US) experience, they are not
 very effective. Besides the tendency of all committees to favour
 precedents and the status quo, the serious errors in stock assessments
 are not usually arithmetic slips but the uncritical acceptance of
 implicit assumptions (like the constancy of natural mortality rates or
 the independence of recruitment from spawning stock biomass). Since
the assessment review systems tend to be staffed by individuals with a
 common background (as I think Gerard Conan was suggesting), such
 assumptions are not usually subjected to the scrutiny they deserve.

 Personally, I think that the primary role in routine stock assessment
 should remain with some central agency (though ideally one
 semi-independent of government), even though the resulting advice will
often fall short of the standards of professional excellence. Like Jim
 Kirkley, I would generally discourage clients from attacking such
 advice through some counter-assessment process, as a prelude to court
 or political action. That leads to sterile arguments and perverted
 scientific advice (since most of us, once caught in a public argument,
 try to support the positions we have taken, rather than seek out their
 flaws). It does not produce effective fisheries management. Most
importantly (and this echos one of Jim Wilson's points), stock
 assessment (as the term is usually understood) only makes sense in a
 frame of reference centred on government regulation of the fisheries.
 I think it is unfortunate for fishing industries to fight their
 governments at all but doubly so if they engage in battle on the
 government's chosen ground. There is so much more that science can do
 to aid the industry that it is a shame to be confined to attacking
errors in assessments.

 Perhaps unlike Jim, however, I do still think that scientific reviews
 of stock assessments performed on behalf of the fishing industry have
 great value. Even though my work leads to the same answers regardless
 of who pays the bills, many people in business seem to trust results
 more if they hold the purse strings. Thus, even confirmation of
official conclusions by an independent review can have value. Since
 consultants have to satisfy their clients if they wish to get paid,
 that confirmation may well be accompanied by more of an explanation
 than government personnel need (or can) take the time to prepare --
 thus providing something of an educational experience as a side
 effect. More generally, if we are to achieve the sort of dialogue
 between industry and scientists that Dan Lane and Rod Moore have
called for, we will need some scientists working very closely with the
 industry (and that probably means working _for_ the industry), on
 whatever the industry sees as a priority -- including assessments.

 This leads to a fundamental, if not immediately obvious, difference
 between my earlier reply to Shaun and the interpretation that Dave
 Crestin has put on it. I suggested that, if I undertook the work for
Shaun, I would probably "recommend still more severe cuts in [his]
 fisheries than NMFS has" -- but I would recommend them to Shaun or
 whatever organization was paying the bill, _not_ to any regultory
 body. When a government biologist suggests that a cut is needed in a
 fishery like New England groundfish, for good or ill the suggestion
 becomes the first shot fired in a political battle between government
 and industry. If the same recommendation is made, privately, to an
industry group, it does not come with the same inbuilt conflict. In my
 experience, clients are more likely to take the advice on board, mix
 it with their other concerns, and respond to their own long-term
 interests in the productivity of the resources -- rather than dig in
 and fight the advice as they would have to do if it came from
 government. Steve Davis' perspective on the work of scientists who are
 well informed on the industry's needs (themselves far more complex
than the simple greed for fish too easily assumed by those of us
 working in offices) is very relevant here and I would endorse it
 strongly.

 Of course, if an industry group had already determined on a fight over
 assessment results and simply wanted its own "scientist" to provide
 ammunition for that battle, pessimistic advice would not be palatable.
Shaun has now assured us that that was not what he was looking for.
 Hopefully that approach is dying out now.

 In those cases where an independent, industry-funded review points up
 an error of one kind or another, it has got to be to the long-term
 benefit of the overall system (no matter how much more stressful it
 may be for government officials).
 But the most interesting possibility in this type of work, to me, is
 that, by working with and for a fishing company or fishermen's
 organization, private-sector scientists can find new questions to ask
 of the population-dynamic data. After nearly ten years in this game, I
 still only have a vague idea of what those questions are but they can
 involve, for example, looking at trends in the biomass available to
 the fishery, rather that in total stock biomass, or focusing on
age-classes that can provide products required by the markets, rather
 than on reproductive age-classes. These are not topics that make much
 sense within an agency charged with resource conservation (any more
 than the conventional concentration on overall stock biomass makes
 sense on the deck of a small fishing boat) and they will not be
 developed until we have a body of scientists working with the
 industry. Until that time, we will be limiting what science could do
for the fisheries.

 And a personal note to Dave Crestin: I'm crawling back into my bunker
 now, so go ahead -- fire the next round in this direction ;->

 Cheers,

 Trevor Kenchington
 {For those whose knowledge of Shakespeare's works is even more limited
 than mine (surely none of the FishFolk!), the literary reference at
 the start of this posting is to "Twelfth Night", Act 5, Scene 1.}

 --
 Trevor J. Kenchington PhD                         Gadus@iStar.ca
 Gadus Associates,                                 Office(902) 889-9250
R.R.#1, Musquodoboit Harbour,                     Fax   (902) 889-9251
 Nova Scotia  B0J 2L0, CANADA                      Home  (902) 889-3555

                     Science Serving the Fisheries
                      http://home.istar.ca/~gadus
Dear Trevor: The whole discussion has now gotten to the point where I am
eminded of The Bard's words in Macbeth: "I am in blood stepped in so
ar that should I wade no more returning were as tedious as go o'er" !
Best, Jim Crutchfield


I want everyone to notice I haven't in any way tampered or commented on this post to a public board, but it's remarkable how the "Scientific Community" responds to even a mild criticism. So much for "rigorous peer review".

(Note - there is no link out of this page so you'll have to use your "back" button on your browser. Either that or you can throw a goddam hammer at the screen.)