University of Washington fisheries professor Ray Hilborn is facing accusations from the environmental group Greenpeace about conflicts of interest and failures to disclose industry funding in some of his research.
Citing documents obtained through public records requests, Greenpeace said Hilborn has received more than $3.56 million from 69 fishing or seafood industry groups since 2003, making up more than 20 percent of his outside funding.
Of Hilborn’s 138 published research papers containing acknowledgements, 26 mention corporate funding, according to Greenpeace. The group filed a complaint with the University of Washington this week detailing several instances in which Hilborn published scientific papers and other writings without disclosing industry funding.
At issue is whether financial ties to the fishing industry have swayed Hilborn's independence as a scientist, something universities and academic journals have developed policies to prevent. Greenpeace compared Hilborn to a climate-change denier who received money from the oil industry. Hilborn said his science is mainstream fisheries science, which Greenpeace will not accept.
“Greenpeace is just trying to discredit anyone who doesn’t say all the world’s fish are disappearing,” Hilborn said. “They certainly don’t like the science that comes out of the group of people I work with. In fact, they typically don’t like fisheries science at all.”
Hilborn, a professor with the UW School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences, has drawn the ire of Greenpeace and some other environmental groups for concluding their claims about the impact of fishing on the environment are overblown.
He has testified before Congress that underfishing is now a larger problem than overfishing, has criticized environmental groups like Greenpeace for their pressure to keep fish stocks at high abundance and runs a website with a page dedicated to debunking myths about overfishing.
“Ray Hilborn has been a real thorn in the side of the marine conservation community for decades,” John Hocevar of Greenpeace said.
Greenpeace also filed a public records request regarding Hilborn’s colleague Trevor Branch. The group’s focus on Hilborn was not based simply on the fact that he received industry funding, Hocevar said.
“It’s more the combination of the large amount of money — the millions of dollars, the direct contracts through consultancies, the failure to disclose these conflicts of interest, and the fact that the is by far the most vocal scientific critic of marine conservation efforts and marine conservation organizations,” he said.
Hilborn does not apologize for accepting money from the fishing industry.
“Is that bad? Our job in the university is to support students and research. And the fishing industry has a big stake in fisheries,” Hilborn said.
Hilborn said he’s actually hoping to increase the amount of money he receives from the fishing industry.
“They’re starting to see that science is good for them,” he said.
Hilborn published a response to the Greenpeace complaint on his website, including a chart of his funding sources. He said much of the funding Greenpeace attributed to industry groups should actually be characterized as community groups in Alaska.
Hilborn said the bulk of the research money from industry has gone toward a research project on salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
“We’re the guardians of that watershed,” he said, noting his project has been at the forefront of science opposing the proposed Pebble Mine. “I have never heard anyone say that money was dirty,” he said.
Hilborn said he has been careful to disclose funding when he is the lead author of a study or when the funding he received was related to the research being done.
UW spokesman Norm Arkans said the university would be looking into the issues raised by Greenpeace to determine if a problems exist and what steps might be needed to address them.
“The issues raised by Greenpeace are matters we take very seriously,” Arkans said.
Greenpeace is also filing letters with various academic journals in which Hilborn has published studies. So far, Hilborn said he has only heard from one of the journals about Greenpeace’s claims.