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March 6, 2012

EDF chief hedges on key '08 report

Doug Rader, chief ocean scientist at Environmental Defense Fund, conceded Monday his organization's 2008 policy paper predicting a jellyfish-dominated oceanic catastrophe oversimplified the problem.

"Oceans of Abundance," which was underwritten by the Walton Family Foundation and co-authored by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, then an EDF official, foresaw "the collapse of global fisheries in our lifetimes," to be replaced by "massive swarms of jellyfish" — unless the wild stocks were immediately privatized and commodified for "catch share" trading in the global investment market.

EDF's Rader was responding to a Monday Times story about the publication in the February issue of BioScience on research that found no evidence of a trend toward an explosion of the jellyfish — or "gelatinous zooplankton" — filling the void left by the removal of more complex fishes.

The team was headed by ecologist Robert Condon of the Dauphin Island Sea in Alabama and 17 other scientists.

The "jellyfish thesis" had become a lightning rod due to Lubchenco's status as a distinguished scientist when she came to office. At the same time, she has presided over rapid expansion of catch share regimens, including into the New England groundfishery, based on shaky claims and fierce industry and congressional resistance.

"The single 'jellyfish world' paradigm was always too simple," Rader said in a Monday email response to questions submitted by the Times.

"While scientists agree that widespread alterations of coastal and marine ecosystems are occurring around the world, those transformations take different forms," he added. "In every case, we believe that good solid management, created in direct consultation with fishermen, can achieve important benefits for both marine ecosystems and fishing communities."

Lubchenco, through her spokesman Justin Kenney, again declined to reassess Oceans of Abundance. The Times submitted response requests to her office Friday and Monday.

However, in April 2009, soon after her Senate confirmation, in written response to questions, Lubchenco said she "strongly endorses" the Oceans of Abundance report, and cited a single, 2008 scientific study as evidence that privatization of fisheries worked best. That study was co-written by her brother-in-law, Steve Gaines, dean of the Donald Bren School of Environmental Sciences at University of California at Santa Barbara.

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