Animal-rights activists today planned to take to Seattle's seafood-shack row to protest fishing, but their rationale may not hold water.
As reported this morning by The Seattle Times, a dozen activists affiliated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals recently announced they'd spend their lunch hour waving signs with grisly images of hooked fish. While protesters told a reporter they were most concerned with the physical pain endured by captured fish, they cited a number of other reasons why eaters should avoid fish, including the scary statistic that "by 2048, at the current rate of overfishing, no fish will be left."
The dead-ocean trope has been repeated widely since a Canadian scientist in 2006 predicted an impending "global collapse."
"The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I said, 'This cannot be true,'" Boris Worm then told The New York Times, recalling how he reached his conclusion by extrapolating data.
Media outlets lapped up Worm's findings so greedily that the University of British Columbia's Jennifer Jacquet used the case as an example to illustrate her recent American Fisheries Society conference presentation on how well-meaning reporters bungle science. When Jacquet screened a slide showing Grist's coverage of the study, headlined "15,023 Days Remain to Save Our Oceans," a roomful of scientists groaned.
Jacquet blames the confusion on a misleading press release. Other scientists have suggested the original study was fundamentally flawed; Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington initially called it "mind-boggling stupid." Hilborn and Worm later collaborated on another study that, while ominous, "led to a quite different interpretation," according to a recent academic article decrying the statistic's persistence.
"Apocalypse in World Fisheries? The Reports of Their Death are Greatly Exaggerated," published in the June issue of the ICES Journal of Marine Science, claims Worm's study suffered from basic mathematical errors.
"The catch-based methods underlying the forecast that by 2048 all commercially exploited stocks will have collapsed have been severely criticized," the authors write. "Nonetheless, the 2006 forecast of a forthcoming apocalypse in the oceans is still uncritically referred to by critics of current management and fisheries science."