Philosophical Change in Groundfish Management Needed

In the Letters to the Editor section of The Navigator (Vol. 21, No. 1, January 2018), I suggested a fishery could be managed as a whole and gave the example of the trial and error management of the whole inshore Maritime lobster fishery by the Universal Law of Sustainability.

This management as a whole is possible because a law of science makes a negative prediction. In the philosophy of science this negative prediction is modelled by a universal law such as all swans are white. That is, black swans do not exist, i.e. you will not find a black swan.

The Universal Law of Sustainability takes the logical form of all swans are white by explaining what cannot be achieved and what should not therefore be attempted.

But what about the Atlantic cod fishery?

Here there is no universal law.

Dr. Noel Cadigan’s new assessment model for Newfoundland’s stock of Northern cod is based on data from the NAFO statistical division for Northern cod and can be said to make a positive prediction in the form of advice. That is, the better the data, the better the advice. Clearly the advice must change each time the data changes.

In the philosophy of science, we can model this invalid argument as no matter how many white swans are observed we can never conclude all swans are white.

My thesis is simple.

The inshore Maritime lobster fishery has been managed successfully since it has been based on valid deductive argument. The Atlantic groundfish fishery has been managed unsuccessfully since it has been based on an invalid inductive argument.

With the greatest of respect to Dr. Noel Cadigan, his latest model for Northern cod does nothing to change the tradition of basing advice on data. That is, the best available advice is based on the best available science; the best available science is based on the best available data; the best available data is based on… what? This series of assertions form an infinite regression that can never be answered convincingly.

In my view, the present management of the Atlantic groundfish fishery is a pseudoscience that has more to do with magic and the magician than a natural law such as a law of physics or the economic law of diminishing returns — laws that apply universally. That is, laws that apply to the whole fishery.

This view of mine can be summarised in the form of a philosophical assertion. A fish stock assessment is not a magic; while the magician can turn pumpkins into golden carriages, the fisheries scientist cannot turn data into advice.

It is my thesis that if management of the Atlantic groundfish fishery is to avoid future collapse, it will have to be managed by a trial and error guided by universal laws that explain what cannot be achieved by the whole fishery.


Chris Corkett

Halifax, N.S.


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