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Are rules made to be broken?
This issue is of proper concern to science and academia because it undermines their critical mission.
It's of concern to the public because it relates to the management of a public resource.
It's of further concern to the public because it relates to government conduct.
... this page set is supplementary to this entry in my publications list:
The lesson from this shameful saga is that conservation easily gets mired and derailed in political interests and backroom dealing, then comes rule-breaking and creative foot-dragging. "Missing the point" becomes an art form.
To prevent that,
we sorely need two things: [A] a sound ethical
framework for scientists in agencies like DFO and COSEWIC so to support
and clarify their obligation to make their work and opinions available to
the public, and to defend their work against distortion,
cherry-picking, etc. by bureaucrats and politicians, and [B] transparency
to permit scrutiny by the public. (These points
do not say that politicians and bureaucrats
or committees like COSEWIC must
exactly follow what scientists recommend; it simply means that the
entire process must be transparent so scientists take responsibility for
bureaucrats must take responsibility for what they do with that.)
COSEWIC was deficient in both of these (A&B). It's a government committee that did not even follow its own published rules. Its happy breach of its own rules was of no interest to the Commissioner on the Environment and Sustainable Development (Office of the Auditor General) because it "was not a government department" -- no matter that its office staff are salaried from the Department of the Environment (another contradiction), that many of its members are on government time (provincial and federal), that it meets in government buildings, that it provides designations that are part of the federal environmental regulatory structure. Nobody cared.
We can trace the problem back to where
it might be remedied. That is: how we as biologists and conservationists
students, both biology majors (who require an ethical grounding to enable them
to contribute to keeping such committees on the straight and narrow) and
(who require in addition a grounding in ecological literacy to help them understand
basic ecological issues, to make them independent of political sound-bites).
In contrast to the needs, ethics is largely absent from the undergraduate curriculum, and many professional educators consider non-majors a waste of time; all that has to be re-thought.
Ethical frameworks do exist (for example that of the Ecological Society of America), but government scientists tend to be told to consider themselves to be principally obliged to their immediate supervisors, and many comply although there are some happy exceptions. The strict 'employee' model is a primitive if not feudal social model, not suitable for a publicly funded scientific and advisory role intended to promote good management. There is some literature on it, if you want to search it you can begin with the phrase "duty to loyalty" which takes you into the process of deciding how much public interest there has to be in order to justify an employee in making comments about the employer's conduct, or in publicly criticising or even differing with the employer -- in other words blowing the whistle.
tricks of the trade?
Smoke and mirrors: when one
sees behind them, the magic becomes just a trick. The supposed content
reduced to illusion.
Article by Dene Moore (AP) from CTV web site May 2, 2003. New cod listing about to be announced, speculation [was] it would include at least some "endangered" if COSEWIC lists by population or geographic region.
Reviews of the Report (1996 and 1998 versions) by eminent scientists chosen by COSEWIC.
PARADI conference talk (html): Ethics
and graphic summary of the history of Northern Cod fishery and nearly 3 decades
of ignored warnings.
The loss of this great fishery had many proximate causes, but one ultimately facilitating cause: government scientists who knew or suspected that there were problems were constrained in what they were allowed to disclose.
Scientists therefore need to be guided by ethical principles that recognise the responsibilities to [a] the resource, [b] to the public that is affected by that resource, [c] to the public that pays for the research on that resource, and ultimately [d] to science, which cannot function in an environment of information control* and requires that scientists be able to share and discuss their understanding. Without that, only the illusion of science is left.
FAO's Code of Conduct for Responsible
Fisheries (follow links to Code and Text of Code). Note especially the
section on Fisheries Management and Precautionary Approach. The FAO Code
is a decent document.
... but for some farcical abuse of the idea of the FAO Code, look at the Award given to "The Canadian Responsible Fisheries Board and its Secretariat" in 2001 for its "unprecedented grassroot approach to the development of a national Code of Conduct based on the FAO Code ..."; but the CRFB's 'code' is a vacuous document with little apparent relationship to the FAO Code. CRFB has practically dropped out of sight (Aug 2004: its web sites don't seem to exist anymore) and its Secretariat was, guess who, DFO. Yet more empty money-wasting flim-flam.
April 28, 2000 open letter to Prime
Minister Chretien (one correction made: repeated word "are").
I was told this appeared in the Globe and Mail but I have not myself seen it.
There was no direct response from the Prime Minister. A response from Minister Anderson was no more than a brush-off that had been either seen or drafted by COSEWIC (how did I find that out?). COSEWIC has every right to make its own reply, but it should sign its own letters, and the Minister should write his own reply and it should be substantive; COSEWIC and the Minister collaborating on a brush-off shows the relationship is closer than it should be. Effectively DFO and COSEWIC acted like parts of the same political machine. The only thing that can be taken as a response was measures in SARA -- the Species-At-Risk Act that increases Ministerial (political) control over designations (politics has been the problem all along); SARA is ironically named if it does put species at greater risk.
The detailed Appendix is the important part of the communication. It elaborates on the issues given in the short letter and gives the (shameful) history of COSEWIC's handling of this Report.
The May 01 2000 press release following the above open letter.
Known PRESS coverage, with brief summary.
SARA -- more
* Hutchings, J.A.., Walters, C., & Haedrich, R. L., 1997. Is scientific inquiry incompatible with government information control? Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci., 54, 1198-1210.
An attack on government's control of information (government influencing or twisting science to support political decisions).
This excellent paper created a stir, not to say panic, amongst a few senior bureaucrats as they worked behind the scenes to stifle this article and browbeat the journal editor into silence. Their tactics served only to prove the point of the paper.
In 1999, Dr. Hutchings (like many others) signed an excellent petition that attacked the 1999 draft of SARA as "unacceptable" because of its political controls on COSEWIC and its List. 642 scientists signed the petition, but, unfortunately, those political controls were not removed.
Puzzlingly, Dr. Hutchings (like one co-author of his paper and a few others) has since joined the SARA-style COSEWIC despite having previously signed that petition (if unacceptable then, how acceptable now?).
Dr.Hutchings, now a COSEWIC insider, did the 5-year Update on my 1998 report. COSEWIC took months to make the update available, despite that their own rules say reports must be made available on request. It was finally received Oct 24 2003, 6 months after the designation was announced. Even after releasing the Report, it took 3 months longer for it to be sent to the Minister, and only then did the clock begin ticking on his SARA duties with respect to it. The delay, a loophole, gave the Minister altogether about 9 months extra time, beyond that mandated by SARA -- that's 9 more months of non-protection, of inaction, for Cod.
The Update has moved COSEWIC in the direction of my recommendations of 1998: they have designated something endangered; and have acknowledged more than one population for designation (an improvement over their politically-forced one-area designation in 1998 against the recommendations of the 1998 Report), but they still addressed population structures at a much coarser scale than the 1998 report recommended, and according to the best information available and as said in the 1998 report, population structure exists at much finer scales even than even that.
Interestingly, the Update fails to cite or mention the 1997/8 Report, even though every other Update I looked at did cite the prior Report(s), and obviously it's relevant because without a citation the reader has to wonder "update of what?" (yes, it does say "Update", but don't be surprised if they alter that too, because they now say Reports are "living documents", i.e. not assured of remaining as they were initially presented. "Living documents" are COSEWIC's attempt to legitimise its habit of fudging Reports and hiding political inputs to decisions. To make it work for them, COSEWIC is demanding that Report authors surrender not only 'intellectual property rights' but also surrender 'moral rights').
When asked why he omitted to cite a Report he knew of, a stark ommission considering he was in touch with me and could have had a copy any time just as his colleague down the hall did, Dr. Hutchings said "... COSEWIC ...did not provide me with a copy of your report." (Of course, they didn't provide him with all the other literature either, but he found and cited that.) This is, at least, obvious cooperation with COSEWIC's suppression of the 98 Report, to cover up their own rule-breaking.
* Steele, D. H., Andersen, R., & Green, J. M., 1992. The managed commercial annihilation of Northern Cod. Newfoundland Studies, 8(1), 34-68.
A crisp, incisive look at the management history of northern cod. Well worth reading, but regrettably difficult to locate. Ask your interlibrary loans department to contact the QE II Library at Memorial.
 Ted Ames: Ted combines being a fisherman and a scientist (M.S. in biochemistry). He showed enormous intiative, leading the way to a practical recognition of stock structures and a key set of reasons for fishery declines. As testament to this leadership, he is a winner in the very prestigious 2005 MacArthur Awards ($500,000 unrestricted).
Ames, E. P. 2004. Atlantic Cod Stock Structure in the Gulf of Maine. Fisheries 29: 10-28.
Ames, E. P., 1997. Cod and haddock spawning grounds in the Gulf of Maine. 33 pp. Rockland, ME, USA: Island Institute.
This is a remarkable study using historical data spanning many decades to retrospectively reconstruct the population structures of the Gulf of Maine. Its findings are highly consistent with Iles/Sinclair's hypothesis of population origins. The first printing sold out quickly, but regrettably few people are aware of it.
The picture that is emerging, or the hypothesis that is gaining evidential support, is that cod and other gadids have population structures on a scale comparable to those of salmon, which may home not only to a region or river, but a particular part of a tributary of a river; likewise, cod home to a bank where they spawn.
SELECTED QUOTES: "Until the recent past, coastal waters of the Gulf of Maine ... supported robust fisheries for cod and haddock. This study was able to document the location, character and extent of present and former spawning areas for these species between Cape Ann and Bay of Fundy. Because a number of spawning areas were relatively isolated, the sequence and nature of their collapse also provided an insight into how those cod and haddock populations functioned. ...
"Anecdotal evidence from fishermen indicates that Maine's coastal stocks of cod and haddock are composed of many discrete stocks that mix freely with other stocks during parts of the year; but, as spawning season approaches, return by specific routes totheir own spawning locations. Such observations are supported by the results of recent tagging studies of cod in coastal Maine and new discoveries about the Gulf of Maine's circulation pattern. ...
"These observations and discoveries challenge the prevailing assumption that cod and haddock are Gulf-wide populations with few distinct subgroups, and suggests why some current management strategies may have failed."
...and from the Island Institute site 05June2003:
"In 1997, Ted Ames wrote Cod and Haddock Spawning Grounds in the Gulf of Maine , which was published by the Institute. Ames' work demonstrated that over half of historic cod and haddock spawning grounds were located in inside Maine state waters. These findings helped influence the Maine Legislature to vote for the first time in its history to close 2900 square miles of coastal waters to all commercial groundfishing for three months each year, for five years."
The bottom line is: without transparency and accountability, COSEWIC has no business existing.
To argue against that, COSEWIC first needs to admit and put right what it has put wrong.
Some say COSEWIC is "better than nothing", but is it really?
Is mediocrity really better than nothing (blatant incompetence)? Doesn't mediocrity just hide the problem a little longer, and just prolong the opportunity for damage to occur? (Is that, maybe, the entire idea?)
Something that ignores its own rules is worse than mediocre, it's fraudulent.
What do others say about COSEWIC? See the Canadian
Marine Environment Protection Society (CMEPS)
Read their 2001 report: "CANADA's WAR ON WHALES": http://www.cmeps.org/report2001/2001ReportCMEPS-IWC.pdf, see especially pages 13-14: "DFO's Political Science", and "Science for Hire at Cosewic?".
Note the comments about Cosewic's aggressive stance in controlling the information in reports: longstanding practise recently made explicit in Cosewic's new (post-2002) Procedures by insisting authors surrender "moral rights" to reports (what are "moral rights"? ... how is it moral to ask authors to surrender "moral rights"?).