September 17, 2009

In a rebuke to a New York Times story questioning the sustainability of New Zealand's hoki fisheries [From Deep Pacific, Ugly and Tasty, With a Catch, 09/09/09], the New Zealand Seafood Industry struck back today in an open letter to the newspaper detailing a variety of omissions and distortions in its reporting that painted an erroneous picture of the nation's fisheries community.

"Around the world, the vast majority of marine scientists and fisheries managers rate New Zealand's fisheries, including the two hoki stocks, as one of the two best managed in the world," said New Zealand Seafood Industry's DeepWater Group chief executive George Clement. "To mislead readers that the opposite is true is a serious case of journalistic malpractice," Clement said.

The letter, a copy of which can be found at:, was delivered earlier today to New York Times science reporter William J. Broad (the author of the piece), Science Editor Laura Chang and Public Editor Clark Hoyt, detailing a number of serious omissions, errors and distortions, including:

-A failure to interview any executives or marine scientists who work in the New Zealand fisheries industry or at the London-based Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the independent organization which has re-certifyed the hoki fisheries as sustainable. "[H]ow in the world could a reporter get a complete, accurate and balanced view of the health of New Zealand's hoki fisheries without speaking to the people who are actually doing the fishing? This omission alone seriously compromises the integrity and balance of the piece," said the letter.

-Reporter William Broad's story is at odds with facts the Times itself reported just weeks ago. A report published this past July in the journal Science by Dr. Boris Worm and Professor Ray Hilborn praised New Zealand's fisheries, including the hoki fisheries, as one of the best managed in the world. New Zealand has led the world in terms of management success, the report said, by not waiting until drastic measures were needed to conserve, restore and re-build resources. Despite the worldwide publication of this research, which was noted in the Times itself earlier this Summer [Study Finds Hope in Saving Saltwater Fish, 7/30/09], the article never referenced it. "How is it possible that Mr. Broad withheld that information," asked the letter.

-Reliance on out of date research when more current data was available. The Times piece cited an article from Seafood Business that was nearly 8 years old as well as a report from the Blue Ocean Institute that relied on some reference materials from as long as a decade ago, this even though MSC re-certified the fishery as recently as 2007. In addition, the Times also chose to ignore a statement from MSC issued this past June noting its pleasure at the news that after years of close management, the hoki stock was rebounding. Said MSC Chief Excutive Rupert Howes, "This is very welcome and encouraging news. Tough management decisions were taken and have clearly been effective. I am delighted that the rebuilding strategy developed in partnership by the Ministry and industry has worked".

-Other shortcomings included:linking of the rise of hoki to the decline of orange roughy, two completely different species of fish discovered under different circumstances; the assertion that the industry sought to fish hoki more aggressively when New Zealand's coastal fisheries were exhausted, when the fact is the nation continues to enjoy thriving coastal fisheries; claiming that scientists are arguing over the state of the hoki stock while only environmental critics have made that claim; and uncritically quoting activist claims about trawling in the hoki fisheries while failing to note that almost 90 percent of their area has never been fished for hoki.
Other parties have noticed the gaps in the reporting as well. "The reporter felt he had stumbled on a scandal. He said 'arguments over managing this resource are flaring not only between commercial interests and conservationists, but also among the environmental agencies most directly involved in monitoring and regulating the catch,'" wrote John Sackton in a September 10 editorial published at News. "Yet the article failed to provide a single instance of disagreement among government agencies - the only disagreements cited were from those objectors to the MSC certification, such as WWF and Royal Forest and Bird, both of whom are on record criticizing bottom trawling in general."

The New Zealand Seafood Industry is asking the Times to set the record straight. "Obviously, we regard this reckless and incomplete reporting with the utmost seriousness. If the Times is going to report on the health of New Zealand's fisheries, it has a journalistic responsibility to include the view of the people who are a first-hand party to the situation - that is, doing the fishing," said the letter. "I look forward to your thoughts on the problems in the reporting and any corrective or clarifying measures that can be taken."