Overfishing denier fails to disclose millions in seafood industry cash for research

Press release - May 14, 2016
Documents obtained by Greenpeace USA through two Public Records Act requests reveal that University of Washington fisheries biologist Ray Hilborn has received at least $3.56 million from 69 fishing, seafood and other industry groups. Hilborn, an outspoken denier of overfishing and a critic of marine protected areas, has violated the policies of several scientific journals by failing to disclose these conflicts of interest in multiple publications.

“Alongside his extensive international connections, Hilborn has deep links to the New Zealand seafood industry,” says Tim McKinnel, Research and Investigations Manager at Greenpeace New Zealand. “Given this revelation, there are questions we need to be asking here.”

Hilborn has published widely on New Zealand’s fishing industry and has been a regular global advocate for New Zealand’s Quota Management System (QMS). From 2003 to 2010 he was on the editorial board of the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research.

“The seafood industry has given millions of dollars to Ray Hilborn,” said Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar. “Hilborn’s failure to acknowledge the problem of overfishing is the equivalent of climate denial and every person who reads his work should at the very least know that corporate interests are underwriting his commentary.”

Between 2003 and 2015, Hilborn received research funding from a broad range of corporate interests. He also received consulting money - of undisclosed amounts - from industry groups like the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council, FishAmerica Foundation, and ExxonMobil.

Hilborn’s funding is rarely disclosed in scientific publications. Of Hilborn’s 138 papers containing acknowledgements, only 26 mention corporate funding. Only 21 industry groups are mentioned by name despite Hilborn receiving funding from 69 groups between 2003 and 2015, as well as many more private consulting fees during the same time period.

In a 2006 paper published on New Zealand’s orange roughy fisheries by the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Hilborn and colleagues stated, “the management of New Zealand stocks has been close to economically optimal and has produced near maximum sustainable yield from the resource.” No funding sources are listed in the acknowledgments to that paper, yet Dr Hilborn received $58,000 in research funding from the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council (now Seafood New Zealand) from 1 September 2005 to 31 August 2006 - to work on orange roughy.

In addition to his New Zealand focussed research, Hilborn regularly promotes the high standard of management of New Zealand’s fisheries - a position often contradicting the wider scientific consensus. As recently as February 2016 he disputed the findings of an international catch reconstruction study by respected international scientist Professor Daniel Pauly and University of Auckland’s Dr Glenn Simmons.

Greenpeace USA has sent a formal complaint to the University of Washington urging the university to conduct its own investigation around the apparent research misconduct of Professor Hilborn. The organization asked the university to address the lack of disclosure of these funds in scientific and popular publications, along with the conflicts of interest posed by Dr. Hilborn’s personal financial gain. Greenpeace also requested that UW disclose the Facilities & Administrative overhead funds received indirectly as a result of Dr. Hilborn’s industry funds.

“Throughout his career, Hilborn has fought alongside corporations against ocean conservation efforts, and in fact, just last year he attacked Greenpeace’s campaign to stop labor abuse and unsustainable fishing by tuna industry giant Thai Union,” continued Hocevar. “It isn’t just that the seafood industry is funding Ray Hilborn. The problem is that he has repeatedly failed to acknowledge these conflicts of interest in violation of publication requirements, even as he has taken millions of dollars in industry funding.”

Tim Mckinnel concludes, “there are not just questions about Hilborn’s relationship to the New Zealand industry, but about the influence his work has had on New Zealand fishing policy. New Zealanders know what a hammering our fish get from industrial fishing, we need our officials to be hearing the truth from scientists, not industry funded spin.”


To access the documents obtained by Public Records Act, the complaint letter sent to the University of Washington, and a summary of Hilborn’s funding, please click here:

For additional information on Hilborn, please click here: