Thursday, February 28, 2013

Judas Conservationist?

OK, I'll own that! :)

Lemme try and re-iterate where I stand.
  • The finning bans were the big Shark conservation idea of the 80ies.
    Then, their purpose was to limit the number of Sharks a vessel would catch by forcing it to land, and thus transport the entire animals, i.e. reserve space in the cargo hold for Shark meat at the expense of the much more desirable target species, usually Tuna. Nowadays, the Tuna are scarce, the Tuna quotas strictly regulated and the fins much more valuable, meaning that those vessels are more than happy to target and transport Sharks. In terms of conservation, finning bans are now obsolete but remain a valid animal welfare concern. It must also be said that most countries (but not all RFMOs) have already enacted finning bans, meaning that the issue has now shifted away from advocacy towards enforcement and prosecution.
    In brief, advocating only finning bans has become utterly useless as a means of Shark conservation.
  • The next big thing were Shark MPAs all the way to national and supranational Shark sanctuaries.
    The way I see it, the advocates of those solutions are quickly running out of potential real estate. It must also be said that going forward, nothing is preventing those governments to repeal those legislative measures, meaning that with the exception of those countries where Shark tourism is well established and making a substantial contribution to GDP like in Palau and the Bahamas, those Sharks may be living on borrowed time.
    This is one of the reasons why despite strongly advocating those sanctuaries, I assert that they are merely stop-gap measures in view of subsequent effective and efficient management measures.
The problem we face is.
  • The efforts to reduce consumption are having an effect - but probably only locally and not sufficiently to impinge on global Shark fishing volumes.
    This is a supply limited fishery and demand would have to drop precipitously before a single Shark less would be killed - and chances for that to eventuate are slim indeed. At best, this is a long-term strategy, spanning generations - and we simply don't have that time. As an example, after decennia of advocacy by passionate and intelligent people, many of which have now embraced the cause of Sharks and Mantas, there remains enough demand in Asia to kill the last Rhino, Elephant and Tiger - and the advent of a wealthier Asian middle class is making things worse and not better!
  • Most global Shark fisheries are completely unsustainable, un-managed, undocumented and unenforced and the trade lacks any transparency and appears dominated by criminal elements.
    In brief, the status quo is essentially a free-for-all that is leading to the rapid depletion of local, if not global stocks of commercially exploited Shark species. There are already signs that like with other Fishes, once the valuable species have disappeared, the industry is targeting previously less desirable species or moving on to previously unexploited locations, but also habitats and depths. Ultimately, as many locations will become completely depleted, this will eventually end up exerting tremendous pressure on established Shark sanctuaries.
  • There are however an increasing number of relatively well managed and relatively sustainable Shark fisheries, this however exclusively in developed countries where governments dispose of the resources for adequate data collection, monitoring, enforcement and prosecution. Yes, granted, they are not perfect - but that can be improved, and they are light years ahead of the free-for-all in most waters and hence, a huge step in the right direction!
    Chances for the establishment of equally sustainable Shark fisheries in the developing world (where the bulk of Shark fishing takes place) are practically nil - that is, unless there is a radical change of paradigm.
  • As a consequence, most of the large, commercially valuable Sharks are threatened with extinction.
    It must however be said that this is not uniformly so, meaning that despite of their global conservation status, there is great variation among local populations - this quite possibly even in the case of those widely distributed pelagic Sharks where new research (paper here) is revealing surprisingly strong philopatry.
In the end, it has to be sustainability.
If fully implemented, it preserves Shark populations and does not reduce biodiversity and harm the environment. Implementation for Shark fisheries is difficult but for some smaller, shorter lived and more fecund species, it is certainly possible, this even in commercially viable volumes.

To the Shark conservation orgs.
Please do re-read this post and the links - I am convinced that this is the way forward, the next big trend in Shark conservation. Obviously it is quite a shift away from the past sometimes successful strategy of  only advocating bans, closures and prohibition. It may also be disturbing to many among you as it defines Sharks as being merely another marine resource - which is what they have alas become, like it or not.

Yes you can continue to operate as before.
You can continue with the awareness and with changing perceptions and the like - but please, at least do it where it counts, i.e. in those developing countries where the Sharks are being slaughtered!
And granted, there are other solutions, as in providing for alternatives - tourism being the principal one.
But let there be no doubt that those projects will always remain localized and small-scale and not adequately counterbalance the pressure exerted by the fishermen, commercial as well as increasingly subsistence-scale.
In essence, those projects will be nice - but in the big scheme of things, they will not change anything.

Advocating smart sustainability will.
Helping establish premium markets for sustainably managed and legally traded Shark products will.

Others are looking into this.
I can't elaborate - but trust me, I'm not being disingenuous here!
You can position yourselves at the forefront of this trend and continue to be relevant - or you can try and oppose it and then find yourselves trying to catch up later. Much like what happened when Pew started advocating those sanctuaries - I'm sure you understand.

Please, do think about it.


Martin Graf said...

Well said Mike!

Like anything, if there is a demand, someone will fill it. Working on reducing demand is and always will be the key to conservation.

It's also helpful to involve local fishermen in shark tourism to give them a lucrative alternative to shark fishing.

Changing consumer perceptions would be immensely helpful, but probably difficult to achieve on a global level. Hopefully China's pledge to not serve shark fin soup at state dinner anymore will help to change attitude in the general populous in China and reduce the demand.


DaShark said...

Thanks Martin.

I just don't think that reducing demand will be fast and broad enough to make a difference, at least not in the shorter term - this is a supply limited fishery so tens, if not hundreds of millions of consumers would have to forgo the soup before a single Shark is being saved.

I say, let's work on reforming the industry to make it transparent, legal and sustainable.

Ila France Porcher said...

Thanks for another clear sighted analysis, Mike.

Your point that the slaughter of tigers, elephants, rhinos and so forth has continued in spite of whole generations working for their protection is daunting.

And then there is the way things become more valuable as they become more rare.

I hope that you are right and that shark fisheries can be made sustainable while the rest of us continue to broadcast the message that shark fin soup is out of fashion.

Keep up the good work!


DaShark said...

Thanks Ila - and you! :)

I'm actually quite hopeful that the issue of sustainability will ultimately prevail.
The fishing industry wants to survive and knows that it is the only recipe for them to continue existing in the long term - but they will of course fight it every step of the way in order to preserve their short-term earnings.

As always, this will require Leadership by the politicos - and that as we all know is a very scarce commodity indeed!

Fingers crossed!