NOAA Passes the Buck on Alaska Crab Fishery Collapses

Tags: , , ,

Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Braxton Dew
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028


NOAA Passes the Buck on Alaska Crab Fishery Collapses

Denies Blame for Wildly Inflated Population Estimates Causing Overfishing

Washington, DC — The federal agency that produced wildly inflated population estimates for the Bristol Bay red king crab is avoiding any responsibility for that fishery’s collapse, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declined to respond to a PEER complaint that the agency’s sky-high estimates led to ruinous overfishing, declaring that doing so “does not serve a current management purpose.”

PEER’s April 2021complaint, filed on behalf of Dr. C. Braxton Dew, a fisheries biologist with more than 40 years of experience, 25 of which with NOAA Fisheries, charges the agency paved the way for closing what was once Alaska’s most valuable single-species fishery by engaging in sampling bias and data falsification, which inflated annual population estimates and led to a multi-year regime of disastrous overfishing. Submitted under the Information Quality Act, the complaint seeks a correction of the record and an admission of the role overfishing played.

In an unsigned response dated November 3, 2022, to the PEER complaint, NOAA Fisheries asserted that “the Bristol Bay red king crab stock assessment has been subject to a public, transparent, and rigorous, peer-review process” but did not identify that process and –

    • Declared that it would not defend the “survey design, data collection, stock assessment, and fisheries management” that was the core of the PEER complaint;
    • Dubiously claimed, “Historical information does not affect current management”; and
    • Suggested that the matter should be referred instead to the State of Alaska and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council as the end users of the bogus estimates.

“Contrary to this response, no competent peer review would approve NOAA Fisheries’ methods for estimating king crab population – that is the whole point of the complaint,” said Dr. Dew. “There is no avoiding the long-term damage to end users, as well as to the credibility of ‘Government science’ by this unfortunate violation of the Information Quality Act.”

By filing its appeal, PEER is triggering an upper-level review of the agency denial that is supposed to be completed within 120 days. The Information Quality Act requires information distributed by federal agencies, especially technical and scientific information, to be complete and accurate and allows anyone to pursue a correction of the record.

“In responding to our complaint, NOAA did not offer any denial or alternate explanation for the commercial extinction of the red king crab under its watch,” added Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to recent ultra-high NOAA estimates for Alaska snow crabs shortly before that fishery also completely collapsed this fall. “NOAA’s posture that ‘historical information does not affect current management’ deserves critical reexamination as those refusing to learn from past mistakes are the most apt to repeat them.”


Read the PEER appeal  

Compare the NOAA denial 

Look at PEER complaint 

See NOAA overestimate of snow crabs before collapse  

Phone: 202-265-7337

962 Wayne Avenue, Suite 610
Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

Copyright 2001–2024 Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility

PEER is a 501(c)(3) organization
EIN: 93-1102740