Sunday, April 26, 2009

Desperately seeking Change!


As promised, back to the Sharks.

If this is true, many of us got to seriously re-think our approach to Shark Conservation.

It says that many fisheries, Shark fishing included, are completely supply limited.
In a nutshell, it would mean that the demand for Shark fins greatly outweighs the supply and that consequently, even if we managed to convince a lot of people not to consume Shark fins, it would have little to no effect on the market and thus, on the supply side represented by the size of the Shark fishing industry.
Couple that with the fact that price elasticity for Shark Fins is probably very close to zero (meaning that demand is not likely to decrease with increasing prices, and that prices will thus rise as stocks get depleted and always balance, or even outpace the rising cost of having to find increasingly rare Sharks in an increasingly empty Ocean) and that fishermen are perfect examples for the Tragedy of the Commons, and we are faced with a problem of truly epic proportions.

From that point of view and assuming (probably correctly) that the total sum of money available for Shark Conservation is finite, the answer to this particular debate is clearly No, go invest your money into more effective projects instead!

So, should we now re-focus all of our energy onto disrupting the supply side?
Declare Shark fishing to be immoral and illegal and prosecute anybody engaging in it?
As much as I would like to do that because I really do love Sharks and hate seeing them killed, I'm convinced that such an approach would not only utterly fail, but create a whole new set of problems on top of that.
Just think of the drug trade (and incidentally, the drug mafia is already part and parcel of the Shark fin trade) and you see where I'm coming from. Prices would skyrocket, violent conflicts would escalate and the slaughter of Sharks would continue unabated.
Plus, it would mean persecuting and criminalizing the fishermen, many of which are poor and are just trying to eke out a meager living in order to feed their families. That just can't be right, can it.
And they will not just take it laying down. Again, think of the coca farmers. Or the purported reasons for the piracy on the Horn of Africa.

Like it or not, any viable solution will have to end up being a pragmatic compromise.
The Asians and their predilection for Shark fin soup are a fact and no amount of rhetoric is going to change that in the foreseeable future - certainly not to the extent of significantly impacting the trade. Plus, and yes I'm repeating myself, who are we to dictate what they may, or may not eat!
And at the same time, fishermen need to be allowed to fish.

What to do?

The solution lays in trying to steer the discussion towards Sustainability.
And that means that we cannot just demand that the other side embrace our point of view: like it or not, we must be willing to engage in dialogue about killing some of the very animals we love and are trying to protect!
If we succeed, we can at least influence how many get killed, how and when - but the battle about keeping alive all of them is a lost cause.

Like in the case of Tuna, Billfish and actually, many Fishes that are currently being targeted commercially (want a current overview of the extent of the debacle? Read, this!), Sharks are being overfished to the point where some species are severely threatened.
Short-term (whatever that may mean, as some estimates talk about centuries), stocks need to be allowed to replenish and the fisheries targeting those species need to be pulled back accordingly.
But long term, there needs to be a consensus for allowing fishermen to harvest sustainable quotas.
Yes, of Sharks, too!


Thankfully, many of the principal NGOs and Government Agencies have embarked on this pragmatic and solution-oriented route. It's a complicated and multi-pronged process that is often polarizing and controversial (read this!). But I like agree with the general direction, and those who take it onto themselves to see it through deserve our respect and gratitude.
Well, most of the time.

Alas, the sheer magnitude and complexity of the task at hand implies that it will always be slow-moving - and time is of the essence!

This is where we, the small guys, can be of value.
Smallness can be a huge advantage - the main one being: No Committees!
Nothing gets watered down to the smallest common denominator but instead, we can create a positive ground swell that will ultimately benefit the "big boys", too, by being fast and nimble, vocal and irreverent, out-of-the box and politically un-correct, sometimes even visionary.
Or outright crazy, like wanting to base a Shark Conservation Project on the premise that it's perfectly OK to exploit Sharks commercially - and even -anathema!- to hand-feed them! What are the chances of that ever being approved by consensus?

And what about the fundamentalist and dogmatic zealot fringe, be it the idealistic Huggers or the Eco-Terrorists? They sure make a lot of headlines and some might say, they do so at the expense and to the detriment of the "movement".
But then again, is there such a thing as bad publicity? Plus, they will always remain the fringe, with the advantage that the majority will appear reasonable and moderate in comparison!

In a way, this is a true democratic process, where knowledge and opinions circulate freely via the electronic media and extremism, propaganda and disinformation are quickly identified, exposed and eliminated along with the fraudsters. And where like in Science, an open and often, robust dialogue will mostly lead to the right conclusions.
Don't we all wish that this would happen everywhere?

So yes, the task is daunting indeed!
But all together, big and small, cold realists and hopeless idealists, we can turn this thing around!
Looking for a Sea Change? Literally?
That would be us!

Let's get it done!

4 comments:

Wilson said...

Curious question: is there a market for shark fin soup here? I know its not the kind of dish you can just order from the corner restaurant, but i wonder if there is demand here in Fiji?

DaShark said...

Alas, most Chinese restaurants in Fiji carry it!
Dunno if they use canned products, or buy the fins locally.

What I know is that the int'l fleets offload fins in Suva/Lami. The fins are "bycatch" from the Tuna fisheries, and the crews get to keep them as "tip" to complement their minimal wages. Some Chinese intermediaries buy them & dry them, probably in order to export them.

It's a small hidden trade with no benefit to Fiji, only the risk that some Sharks get killed inside the country.

If you kill the Sharks, the next layer of predators (eg groupers) explode and kill all the grazers. That in turn leads to unchecked algae growth that smothers the reefs.
Can you imagine Fiji with no reefs anymore?

All of the above is perfectly legal and we need laws protecting the Sharks and limiting the trade.

Did you watch Simpson@seven about Sharks?

Shark Diver said...

Nice layout of a complex and serious issue sir!

Wilson said...

err I have 2 pcs but no tv. Go figure >.>