Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dancing with the Devil?

It’s that time of the year again.

The Humpback Whales are slowly moving towards Vava’u.
And very shortly, a related migration will see the delegates of the IWC meet in Agadir, Morocco, on June 20 to 25.

IWC meetings are always controversial, but this one especially so.
After lengthy and more or less secret negotiations, a proposal will be tabled aimed at ending the whaling moratorium in favor of allocated quotas for Japan, Norway and Iceland (only). In exchange, those countries would relinquish their fake scientific whaling and agree to be fully regulated and also, monitored by the IWC.

Obviously, nobody is happy.
The conservationists are crying foul and advocating that all whaling, scientific or not, must end, period. The whaling countries are unhappy as the quota system would reduce the total numbers of killed whales.

But such is the nature of pragmatic compromises: everybody must make concessions and nobody wins outright.
But whereas the discontent is only human nature, personal egos and ideologies are not the topic at hand. The topic at hand is the survival of whales as a species, and how best to achieve it – and this in a real world and not some utopic vision that continues to fail in practice.
And yes there's plenty of shenanigans including blatant bribery. But let's not be holier than thou - having been an investment banker, I can assure you that we very much engage in the very same practices, and worse!

The question is, is it acceptable to kill some whales in order to better preserve the species?
I say: in this specific case, absolutely yes!
It’s the same old conundrum facing all marine conservationists dealing with fisheries: in this world where people want to eat animal protein, the long term solution can only be sustainable harvesting, meaning that we will have to accept that some of our pet animals will be killed.

In exchange, conservationists must however get a say about which species get killed along with how many, when, where and how they get harvested, and they must also be able to rigorously monitor the hunt in order to ensure that everybody adheres to the agreed upon rules.
From what I can see, the proposal appears to pursue precisely those aims.

Plus, in the case of whales, the good news is this.
Contrary to Sharks, whaling is demand limited - and the demand is rapidly waning.
Once you eliminate the ego factor and the irrational perceived issues of nationalistic pride, whaling makes no commercial sense whatsoever. With that in mind and if left to simple issues of offer and demand (and if one disregards the various non-controversial indigenous harvesting exceptions) whaling may well die of natural causes or become biologically irrelevant, especially if it remains confined to species where stocks appear sufficiently robust, as Minkes.
Indeed, as the Pew remarks, other threats to whales may well become equally, if not more relevant- especially Climate Change!

Over to the Sharks and this post by Patric Douglas.
My first reaction was Boy, there really REALLY are some colossal back-stabbing morons out there – and I wasn’t referring to Patric!
I’m not at all privy to any additional details – but if what I read is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, then it just once again reinforces my strong belief that I will never, ever want to be part of those horrible circles!

Anyway, Patric just does what Patric does: he thinks laterally.
As a consequence, some of his proposals are really way out there where I have problems following, at least at first glance - but time after time, as results are being achieved and emotions are being superseded by pragmatism and dispassionate analysis, I discover that I end up by ultimately agreeing with his ideas.

Thing is, and contrary to the revelations, or whatever, by the usual detractors, Patric and I are neither close personal friends (we’ve met once), nor do we do business together, nor do we co-ordinate our posts in order to pursue some sinister common agenda aimed at world domination.
We just happen to be two of the most active bloggers on Sharky matters and due to the relative paucity of topics, we often end up covering the very same issues at the very same time. Over time, we’ve developed a degree of mutual respect and yes, friendship as it appears that we share many common beliefs and thus tend to reach the same conclusions. And yes, we’ve also co-operated on some projects, like this one, or this one – which I am proud of and for which I’m thankful for Patric’s support – and I suspect, vice versa!
End of explanation.

Anyway, back to the topic, i.e. Patric’s suggestion.
Would it be OK to partake in the Shark fin trade in order to fund Shark conservation?

Repugnant as that may seem at first glance, the arguments in favor would be this.
  • The web-based Shark fin trade is a fact and it is certainly plausible that in view of the potential earnings, it continues unabated regardless of some past conservation victories – meaning that as some trading platforms get closed down, new ones are being created
  • The idea is that of re-routing part of the already existing trade, not of increasing it by creating more demand – if that can be substantiated, and I believe it can, no incremental harm is being done
  • Shark conservation could sure use those funds – especially if the sums mentioned in Patric’s post are in any way realistic! Wow just think of the possibilities!
  • Apart from earning money that would be invested into Shark conservation, partaking in the trade could yield valuable additional information about volumes, origins, prices, species, etc
The con arguments are obviously ethical and would also have to center around the risk of misappropriation and mis-allocation of funds.
The latter can however be overcome by a stringent regimen of checks and balances.

Which leaves the ethical conundrum.
Being who I am and like in the case of game fishing for Sharks, I can certainly never imagine myself being part of that process – money or no money!

But others may well.
And if so, and if done properly, I can only wish them the very best of success!

Mind you: reluctantly!


Shark Diver said...

Thanks for covering this Mike. The "idea" and the reaction to it was instructive to myself and others who watched how it unfolded and the players involved.

Sometimes throwing a rock into a small pond can be beneficial.

My hunch is at a bare minimum it has highlighted the need to get serious about funding. Plush toy sales at dive shows and abject street level begging will not get the many conservation efforts where they need to be now, let alone three years from now.

Yes, those financials are solid plus or minus 10%.

DaShark said...

That's always the hope isn't it - that these stupid controversies may ultimately lead to reflection and hopefully, to improvement.