Tag Archives: Jeffrey A. Hutchings

Money and its influence on Canada’s fisheries and oceans

Having neither the research skills nor the resources to investigate the impact the money (and power) have on science in Canada, more specifically, on our fisheries and oceans, I have to thank the Canadian Science Media Centre for the link to a paper on the topic.

As usual, you’ll find a citation and link to the paper at the end of this posting. First, a few reasons why you may want to take a look at the paper in its entirety. From the “Is scientific inquiry still incompatible with government information control? A quarter-century later” paper,


Twenty-six years ago, in response to regionally devastating fisheries collapses [collapse of Maritime provinces cod fisheries] in Canada, Hutchings et al. asked “Is scientific inquiry incompatible with government information control?” Now, a quarter-century later, we review how government science advice continues to be influenced by non-science interests, particularly those with a financial stake in the outcome of the advice. We use the example of salmon aquaculture in British Columbia, Canada, to demonstrate how science advice from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) can fail to be impartial, evidence-based, transparent, and independently reviewed—four widely implemented standards of robust science advice. Consequently, DFO’s policies are not always supported by the best available science. These observations are particularly important in the context of DFO having struggled to sustainably manage Canada’s marine resources, creating socio-economic uncertainty and putting the country’s international reputation at risk as it lags behind its peers. We conclude by reiterating Hutchings et al.’s unheeded recommendation for a truly independent fisheries-science advisory body in Canada to be enshrined in the decision-making process.

Over a quarter of a century later, the cod fisheries and others are in dire conditions, Note: Links have been removed,

… numerous Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) populations are at historically low abundances (Peterman and Dorner 2012; Riddell et al. 2013; Bendriem et al. 2019; COSEWIC 2019), and Canada’s Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) stocks remain in a “critical” state (Fisheries and Oceans Canada 2020).

Much of the paper is written in an academic style and features an alphabet soup. For example, COSEWIC is Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. That said, there are many valuable comments, from the “Is scientific inquiry still incompatible with government information control? A quarter-century later” paper, Note: Links have been removed,

… Science advice is integral to DFO’s [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] role, but the provision of Canadian fisheries-science advice is challenging, due not only to the diversity and large geographic scale of Canada’s ocean environments, but also to the pitfalls inherent in providing science advice.

Although science can play an important role in the mitigation and reversal of anthropogenic stresses by supplying evidence for policy decisions, competing interests and ideologies can impede the delivery of robust science advice and its integration into government policy decisions. In particular, individuals or groups with vested interests can manipulate the science-policy process through the “disinformation playbook” (Reed et al. 2021)—a collection of strategies that downplay and obscure risk by seeding doubt about scientific consensus (Freudenburg et al. 2008). These tactics can be used to discount the connections between negative health or environmental outcomes and their corporate or industrial causes, at times resulting in regulatory capture, a “process by which regulation… is consistently or repeatedly directed away from the public interest and toward the interests of the regulated industry, by the intent and action of the industry itself” (Carpenter and Moss 2013). Examples of regulatory capture exist in relation to cancers from tobacco use, bird-population declines from dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), ozone-layer depletion from chlorofluorocarbons, and climate change from greenhouse gas emissions (Oreskes and Conway 2010; Anker et al. 2011).

It’s not all bad news, from the “Is scientific inquiry still incompatible with government information control? A quarter-century later” paper, Note: Links have been removed,

Reassuringly, governments commonly seek to incorporate evidence and scientific findings to strengthen policy and better inform decision-making. A flagship example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), provides policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis for climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation (Masson-Delmotte et al. 2021). The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assesses the global extinction risks for animal, fungal, and plant species (IUCN Red List 2022). In Canada, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) (Waples et al. 2013) provides species threat-status assessments whose quality and independence are internationally recognized (Waples et al. 2013). Recently, to inform their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, many national governments drew on science advisory bodies, such as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) in Canada (Macdonald and Pickering 2009; Ismail et al. 2010).

The authors make note of how social, political, legal, and economic issues affect decisions and then they call out a few specific problems with the Canadian effort, specifically, Pacific Coast salmon aquaculture, from the “Is scientific inquiry still incompatible with government information control? A quarter-century later” paper, Note: Links have been removed,

Salmon aquaculture has had a turbulent history in Canada, particularly on the Pacific coast, where non-native Atlantic salmon comprises 89% of aquaculture production by quantity and 95% by value (FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022). The controversy on the Pacific coast—where the industry is regulated federally, by DFO, rather than provincially, as in Atlantic Canada—is largely due to the amplification of disease and its transmission from farmed to wild salmon, a concern for salmon farming globally (Garseth et al. 2013; Krkošek 2017; Kibenge 2019; Mordecai et al. 2021). The Pacific coast of Canada is perhaps the only region in the world where salmon farming was developed alongside abundant, viable wild salmon stocks (FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022). In this context, widespread declines of many wild Pacific salmon populations (Peterman and Dorner 2012; Riddell et al. 2013; Bendriem et al. 2019, 2019), in parallel with growing evidence of the ecological effects of salmon farms, have eroded the social license for the industry to operate (Wiber et al. 2021; Reid et al. 2022). …

The quality of DFO’s science advice on salmon farming in BC is particularly important in the context of growing evidence that⁠ (due to multiple causes⁠) wild salmon are not thriving (Peterman and Dorner 2012; Riddell et al. 2013; Bendriem et al. 2019; COSEWIC 2019), and has repeatedly been a cause for concern among scientists, nongovernmental organisations, Indigenous groups, and even government bodies (Proboszcz 2018; Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans 2021a). …

… for some, the close relationships between members of the salmon aquaculture industry and DFO personnel raise concerns that these standards of impartiality are not being met. For example, the former Director of DFO’s Aquaculture, Biotechnology, and Aquatic Animal Health Science Branch was previously the President of the Aquaculture Association of Canada (Supplementary data, pp. 80–82), an organisation with the objective to “promote, support, and encourage… [the] advancement of aquaculture in Canada” (Supplementary data, p. 83). Similarly, the former Director of the Pacific Biological Station and Head of Aquaculture for DFO later served as Chair of the Science Advisory Council for the BC Salmon Farmers Association, by which he was described as “a strong advocate for the aquaculture industry in BC” (Supplementary data, pp. 84–85). These are just two examples among many. …

DFO’s accountability to industry was once again brought to light in 2022 when a prominent DFO research scientist testified in front of a parliamentary committee that DFO’s ability to conduct robust, transparent evidence-based risk assessments on aquaculture–wild interactions was compromised by a lack of independence from industry (Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans 2021b). Examples of the Department’s processes for developing salmon-farm regulations, while not examples of science advice, further call industry influence into question. …

In the end, the authors had this to say about all of the fisheries and oceans science advice given to the department, from the “Is scientific inquiry still incompatible with government information control? A quarter-century later” paper, Note: Links have been removed,

The case for improving fisheries-science advice in Canada has never been stronger. DFO’s standard of fisheries-science advice now lags behind international best practice (Hutchings et al. 2012b; Winter and Hutchings 2020) as well as Canada’s own science advisory bodies, such as COSEWIC and the NACI, which strive to offer advice unfiltered and unaffected by political or bureaucratic influences. Yet DFO continues to allow industry lobbying and other non-science influences to interfere with advice processes (see Impartial section) while publicly claiming that the resulting advice is based on science (Supplementary data, pp. 10–15). …

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Is scientific inquiry still incompatible with government information control? A quarter-century later by Sean C. Godwin, Andrew W. Bateman, Gideon Mordecai, Sean Jones, and Jeffrey A. Hutchings. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences DOI: https://doi.org/10.1139/cjfas-2022-0286 Published: 31 July 2023

This paper is open access and because I don’t ever before recall seeing an ‘Acknowledgements’ section that is sad, humorous, and touching, here it is,


We dedicate this paper to Jeffrey Hutchings, who tragically passed away halfway through the writing process. Jeff was a giant of the field who had an immense, positive influence on his friends and colleagues, and on fisheries science and policy in Canada and beyond. JH contributed to the conception and outline of the paper, wrote the first draft of the Introduction, edited as far as the “Background” subsection of the “Salmon Aquaculture Case Study,” discussed the case study examples, and penned a portion of the “Conclusions and Recommendations.” SG, AB, and GM all contributed equally to the manuscript (and reserve the right to list themselves as first author on their CVs). Published order of the co-first authors was determined via haphazard out-of-a-hat selection by AB’s 18-month-old son, Linden; whether this process bears all four hallmarks of robust science advice was not assessed. We are very grateful to 14 colleagues who provided valuable feedback during preparation and review.