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New fact-check on fisheries reporting takes to Web, social media

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Posted October 15, 2015

An international team of experts in fisheries management, spearheaded by UW professor Ray Hilborn, is trying to lead the conversation about sustainable fisheries using a less traditional approach — reaching the general public directly through a new website and social media outreach.

The initiative is called the Collaborative for Food from Our Oceans Data, or “CFOOD” for short, and offers data and commentary on the sustainability of global fisheries.

Many scientific reports and resulting media coverage about fish stocks collapsing or being overfished are incorrect or widely misinterpreted, they say. They launched the effort two weeks ago to provide a forum for experts to discuss or explain certain claims.

“We would like to become the definitive source for independent science on seafood sustainability,” said Hilborn, a UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences. “With the growing importance of social media and electronic media, it’s very clear that’s a way to reach large audiences you’re not going to reach in scientific journals or letters to the editor.”

Two UW School of Marine and Environmental Affairs graduate students, Max Mossler and Jack Cheney, manage the Twitter account (@cfoodUW) and website.

The initiative’s leadership includes nine affiliated scientists at institutions around the world. The group’s goal is to respond quickly to a news story or scientific report about sustainable fisheries if it appears to be inaccurate or overly simplified. They are also tapping a growing network of about 100 other fisheries experts, asking them to respond with comments if they have expertise or an opinion on a particular topic.

Hilborn acknowledged this is a platform for a generally likeminded group on sustainable fisheries issues, but he said the members aim to be fair and balanced in their responses.

In one recent example, Hilborn and other scientists affiliated with the group responded in late September to a new World Wildlife Fund report and related Guardian news story that claimed global tuna and mackerel populations have declined by 74 percent since 1970. Their responses discussed problems with the data and offered additional resources to evaluate that statistic.

The CFOOD initiative also houses databases on fish stock statuses, management practices and the price of fish in an effort to provide unbiased data and background information. The editorial board plans to create a new section on the website that briefly summarizes the history of many of the best known and globally most important fisheries.

The pilot project was funded by private donations. Hilborn will seek additional funding and hopes to involve more graduate students and staff as the initiative grows.

“Fisheries are a vital part of global food security and employment and good science needs to guide global fisheries policy,” Hilborn said. “Our hope is to make sure that decision makers, the media and the general public have access to the best available scientific understanding of fisheries sustainability issues.”

Source: University of Washington

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