Friday, April 02, 2010

Doha - pathetic!

No, this is not yet another post slamming CITES!

From a message by a friend.

The environmental issues need to get into the realm of either the more ruthless, more effective or more monetarily concerned or a combination of all three.
From what I've read, it seems the pro-fishing folks obviously had a strategy and agenda for this meeting. It seems the anti folks just went with their own agendas and hoped to meld once they got there.
It's a full-time job for hardened old internationally experienced, economically savvy lobbyists, not concerned PR grads and volunteer sculptors.

I've been of two minds about this post as once again, it'll get me in trouble for taking on fellow conservationists. I had fervently hoped that somebody else would finally address this total failure of the Marine Conservation movement, or that one of the people involved would have had the courage and the humility to do a proper post mortem and show a modicum of accountability.

Alas, no such luck.
All I get to see are the continued ramblings of the pundits slamming the Japanese and depicting unhelpful doomsday scenarios - and lemme tell you: I am not impressed!
Ocean Death Panel? Sushi-Cide? Tunapocalypse? What's this, a high school poetry contest to complement the pathetic home movies?

It's Copenhagen all over again.
There, everybody and his dog flocked to Denmark, protested, pontificated and vociferated, only to achieve less than nothing - whilst incurring a stunning aggregate expenditure in the process and even more disturbingly, burdening the Planet with a stupendous incremental aggregate Carbon Footprint.

Here, it appears, a motley uncoordinated naïve and clueless group of amateurs paid themselves a trip to Doha in order to protest, pontificate and vociferate - and by those metrics alone, the output has been impressive indeed!
Not however the end result: Zilch, Zero, Nana de Nada!

I say, there has to be a moment of accountability after a failure of this dimension.
It's time for those righteous and self-congratulatory folks to stop whining, to climb off their high horses and to have a hard look into the mirror - and yes, if they dare doing so, what they will see is a bunch of total and utter losers!
Time for the Director of Conservation Strategies to acknowledge that the "strategy", if ever there was one, sucked; time for the Campaign Manager to realize that her "managerial skills" were pathetically inadequate and the campaign, a total fiasco; time for everybody who made the trip on other people's money to tell them how much the debacle cost and to explain why going to Doha was a good idea in the first place and why the public should continue to send money to finance those useless exercises; time for replacing the failed managers and for abandoning the failed strategies in favor of new, pragmatic approaches with a chance of success.
And please, learn something from the world of sports: there, the losers do not rant and ramble but instead, they learn from their mistakes and progress to win the next match!

Does the defeat make me angry?
No, it really does not. It just sadly reinforces my reservations against some of those NGOs who are so long on pontificating and so short on tangible results. And I certainly will never, ever bequeath, or otherwise deed or gift any cash, securities, real estate or other tangible personal property to them like a particularly brazen one solicits!

The fact is that to everybody with a brain, CITES was always gonna be a very long shot indeed.
Yes it was a great utopia and a bold move which would have provided for a relatively simple solution to overfishing, one of the most complex and intractable policy and conservation challenges. But fisheries are often the major source of income for maritime countries and big business on top of that, and trying to simply pull the rug from under those interests was inevitably going to generate some determined opposition.
In that regard, the whining by some quarters that business succeeded in trumping conservation looks at best naïve and at worst, just plainly stupid - certainly when compared to the Japanese delegation who understood and deftly exploited the unease of many of the delegates.


The good news is that the need for Marine Conservation has been clearly put on the table.
The good news is also that contrary to the usual stupid stereotypes, Fisheries officials very much understand the need to fish sustainably (read this, very interesting!).

Yes that very much comprises the much maligned Joe Borg (to include him, and some of the delegates in this list is just plain stupid - what possible benefit will conservation derive from antagonizing the very people who will make the decisions) who has done some real good things, and his successor Maria Damanaki! And yes, that includes the Japanese, too!
Very much like New Zealand and others, they rightly argue that the best way to manage stocks is to do so via treaties among the nations concerned - in the case of the Northern Bluefin, ICAAT and GFCM.

ICCAT has been widely criticized for failing to achieve its objectives, and rightly so.
But once again, the situation is far from being simple. If you take the time to read the executive summary (page 12) of its own external audit, much of the deficiencies is attributable to non-compliance by some of its members, including some astounding scams by the fisheries industry. In essence, it is the Europeans themselves, and not the much maligned Asian consumers that have created the problems.
When it comes to the fisheries for Bluefin (page 53ff), the problems are complex and manifold and primarily concern the fisheries in the Eastern Atlantic and especially, the Mediterranean.

But contrary to the doomsday scenarios, not everything appears lost.
Read page 69ff and you will find that a whole host of sensible recommendations has been put forward, a fact that was echoed in Doha.
Some forward-looking NGOs like the WWF have recognized this as an opportunity and added some recommendations of their own.

All now depends on the delegates.
ICAAT will meet this November and you can find the list of contracting countries here, and here, the members of GFCM - and yes, both lists feature Japan, like it or not!
It will be those people, and not some clamoring NGO that will seal the fate of the Atlantic Tuna - and the sooner we recognize that and play the role we can play, the sooner we will succeed in influencing them in favor of some tangible progress.

Japan-bashing and insulting the delegates is clearly not the way to go.
One must always keep in mind that since civil societies do not hold the institutional power to make any such decisions, their role can only be to try and influence the vote by convincing the parties that sustainable fishing is ultimately very much in their own interest. To be righteous and confrontational is a clear recipe for failure - as amply proven in Doha!

Luckily and contrary to CITES where many delegates were not fisheries experts, the delegates attending the ICCAT meeting will most likely know what they're talking about. But like in Doha, they will be civil servants acting on instructions from home, so trying to sway them during the meeting will be way too late.

The strategy?
Look no further that the successful campaign by Japan, Inc.
Whilst the Europeans were still bickering and the USA, still pondering its stance, Japanese lobbying started months ahead of the conference when various smaller countries were approached and ruthlessly and charmingly "convinced" that it would be in their best interest to vote in line with the Japanese. At the conference itself, veteran negotiators ensured that their allies would not stray and then orchestrated a veritable ambush where the pro-ban countries were dealt a defeat of truly epic proportions.

The lesson to be learned is that the pro faction needs to be better prepared, better coordinated and more ruthless - and possibly also more charming!
Europe needs to become tougher with members who stray, like Malta and Spain. Europe and the USA must start lobbying the other members well ahead of time and must be willing to apply the same kind of political pressure, including leveraging their development aid.
At the same time, negotiators should explore any avenues for reaching a preemptive agreement with the suspected nay-sayers like Japan - and that includes being open for compromises but at the same time, very much explaining that both Europe and the USA wield a mighty big stick inasmuch as they have the power to ultimately decide to implement unilateral restrictions if pushed too far, as has already been suggested.

When it comes to those NGOs, what can I say.
For once, try to be useful by helping when asked, by not voicing extreme and childish viewpoints and above all, by discreetly staying where you belong: in the background, acting as valued counselors and facilitators as opposed to vociferous self-promoting agitators!
I'm obviously critical of all that publicly funded convention tourism - but if you really deem it necessary to be represented: coordinate among you, formulate a common strategy and then send over a few seasoned, well prepared and above all, credible lobbyists.

I however see the real chance for the civil societies in quiet, polite and persistent lobbying "on the ground", flanked by developing, financing and implementing economical and social solutions for the fishermen, country-wide education campaigns and above all, money and hardware for effective enforcement and policing.

The good news is this: the arguments in favor of a drastic reduction in quotas or a moratorium altogether are compelling.
After all, at current rates, those countries are at risk of completely losing their fishing industries as the Tuna and other Fishes will eventually become commercially extinct. Most fisheries officials understand that - but whereas wealthier countries can afford to pay off the fishermen and to set in place an effective enforcement regimen, trying to implement the necessary measures in lesser developed countries is extremely difficult.

Other, more effective and pragmatic and at the same time, less vocal NGOs like SOSF, SF, the Pew or the incredibly impressive IUCN have recognized this and quietly pursue local and regional agendas yielding long-term sustainable results, some of which spectacular. No instant gratification here, no grandiose "statements": just a lot of persistent, difficult and tedious work which is conducted for the sake of the cause and not with personal aggrandizement in mind.
This, I believe, is the way to go - no need to re-invent the wheel.

But back to the principal topic of this post.
Guys, please, spare us the "statements" and the pouting!
Coming from you, the losers, they are frankly embarrassing.

The idea of jetting to Doha, making some noise and then coming back for a victory lap has sorely backfired. Veni vidi should be followed by vici - defui is just not good enough, sorry.
Show some humility. Be accountable.
Maybe, then, you will regain some credibility.

(down off soap box)

PS: Wolfgang has weighed in here - much too kind as usual, thank you!
PS2: another must-read by Mark Harding here!
PS3: SouthernFriedScience's take here.


Horizon Charters Guadalupe Cage Diving said...

Gee Whiz Mike,

You might have waited until I get back from the Southern Hemisphere, but as I read here you basically said all I wanted to say anyway (as usual).

DOHA was a disaster.

I am disgusted that 100% of the attending NGO's "blamed the process" for the losses not one had the Cajones to stand and take a drubbing for self inflicted bad plays.

I think the next step has to be an old fashioned top level meet and greet with the CEO's and Directors of each of the attending NGO's, no staff flacks, just the top people.

If disparate fishing interests from 15 different nations can get their shit together...

DaShark said...

That's actually EXACTLY what needs to happen!

Not about to start holding my breath tho - too many "personalities", too much hubris, too much competition for the very same scarce conservation dollars for it to ever happen.

But then again, who knows - maybe this has spawned something like a learning curve.
The way things are going, it better be bloody steep!

Tim of the Deep said...

Hi Mike,

That's nice but tell us how you really feel.

(just kidding)

You made some excellent points. Quite few things I hadn't considered. This was a good education for me.

IMHO, one major recurring problem is lack of incentive. When I covered the Palau crocodile study with a couple of well-credentialed from CITES experts back in the '90s they said the secret to their success of stemming to demise of salties was to provide economic incentives. Starting commercial and government-run farms, creating ranger jobs, taking on villagers as research assistants, etc. opened a million doors for them and aided them in reaching their goals.

You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours is as old as the dawn of apes. Even my parakeets do it to each other.

I saw no carrots dangled to Japan or any of its more needy and less developed allies.

Make economic sense to fishing countries and doors will open.

Tim Rock

DaShark said...


All-or-nothing rarely works.

Yes there has to be the carrot - and at the same time, let's not be holier-than-thou and show them the stick as well!

Living in Guam, you know all too well where a diet of carrots only will lead!

The Sharkman said...

Very well said my friend.

But... Will the lesson be learned or will this disaster just be "forgotten"? (only to be repeated again when the time comes)

It's time for a new coach with a change of tactics..... preferably someone that has read the "How To Save Our Oceans : The Fiji Way" manual!!

DaShark said...

Thank you Alex - but please, don't get me wrong: I'm by no means suggesting that civil societies have no role to play, or that they are all useless or the like!

On the contrary, I'm actually very much impressed by the work some of them perform - not least of them many members of the Shark Alliance who worked hard, and successfully for the protection of Sharks in Europe!

My rule of thumb: the more strident and uncompromising the tone, the more individual people try to showcase themselves, the more I get wary!

As to the "Fiji way", we're blessed in having forward-thinking authorities with a true concern for the country's natural resources, so talking conservation has been relatively easy.

Compare that to the witch-hunt Stefanie has to endure in Hawaii - and still, she doggedly perseveres and is now so close to the enactment of some truly ground-breaking legislation for Sharks.

Or compare that to your situation where I strongly doubt that Mr. Pullicino would ever agree to meet you - correct?
And despite that, you managed to get the Angel Sharks protected by showing him the European "stick".

Where I'm coming from is that there isn't a global strategy, there are only local strategies which are adapted to local circumstances.

All however require dedication, perseverance, patience and above all, a lot of hard and often incredibly boring work and the absolute willingness to compromise.

Qick-fix-, all-or-nothing-,
instant gratification- sort of solutions are usually nothing but smoke & mirrors: Buyer beware!

Jupp Kerckerinck said...

Dear Mike, ever since I met you in Palm Beach I really respect your opinions and I respect you as a person.
I read your article and in parts you are right, but it all boils downs to determination and money.
The determination was there but, of course, the ego problems are always a big obstacle.

I went to Doha for the first time as president of SRI and I was not only snubbed, I even experienced certain hostility by some people, who basically wanted the same thing we did. It seems to be a phenomena within shark conservation, that everybody wants to do things his or should I say her way. People just don’t like each other and don’t want to work together. They don’t like the idea, that we are strong only, if we are united. This is definitely a big problem.

You are right by saying “that we paid ourselves a trip to Doha”, because we, from the Shark Research Institute, paid our own way; thousands of dollars out of our own pockets. Compared to the 50 people the Japanese sent to Doha, including the lavish sushi party in the Japanese embassy, that is peanuts, I know. They must have spent millions because by killing the blue fin tuna, they make billions.
Why didn’t our government finance some people who know what they are talking about? Our US delegation had a meeting every afternoon but didn’t really care much about what was said by NGOs. They did not encourage being contacted. The real scientists, like our Dr. Compagno, were never even asked for their opinion and you are only allowed to speak when you are asked to do so.

I don’t think it is fair to call us “a group of naïve and clueless amateurs”. The problem was that the real brainpower did not get the chance by the government delegation, to explain things how they really are. When the head of the delegation mentioned that CITES was not a failure, and called it “a journey”, I called it a journey into extinction. If that is “whining”, I can’t help it.

And now I’ll leave it up to smarter people than I obviously am, to come up with a better strategy. You all have 3 years to do it and I’ll be happy to let you go there and change things for the better. I’ll be happy to stay home, save my money and let you do the job.

Mark Harding said...

Fantastic commentary. I have responded to it and linked to you here:

The Sharkman said...

Hi Mike.

I know exactly what you mean, and I also know who the NGO's you are refering to are.

Yes, as Shark Alliance, we have been working non-stop for the past years to get better conservation measures for sharks, and we will not stop. Hopefully the fact that the Alliance has now gone global, we can achieve more.

You are right about Mr. Pullicino. He still has not met with me, and I doubt if he ever will, but don't worry, he does not make the final decisions. ;-) There is a name for people like him...............

I thank god that there are people like Lesley, Stefanie and yourself who just fight for sharks without seeking personal profits.

DaShark said...

Mark: wow!!!

Just brilliant – in style, content and entertainment value!!!


DaShark said...

Dear Jupp

Chapeau: das hat Format - wie nicht anders erwartet!

Look, I’m acutely aware that hindsight is 20/20 vision and that it’s easy to be a wisecrack after the fact.
Please believe me when I say that this is not about some petty NGO bashing or the like. Ideally, it is meant to lead to reflection, robust discussion and ultimately, hopefully, to more success going forward. Patric did also suggest a strategy meeting among conservation CEOs and I think it’s a great idea!

For what it’s worth, I really do believe that CITES will always be the wrong forum for deciding upon the fate of a multi-billion global industry employing hundreds of thousands of people, rich and poor. Compare that to the scope of, say, the ivory trade or even whaling in its heyday and you may see where I’m coming from.

The message from CITES as I understand it is not about business trumping conservation. It is essentially this: let the local professionals handle this on a regional basis.
I happen to concur that this is the best way to go.

I promise you that overfishing is the single largest policy conundrum plaguing every single fisheries officer around the globe. In that regard, I’m intimately convinced that all of them know that there is an acute problem and that in theory, the only possible long-term solution is sustainable fishing.

But like it or not, this will always remain an eminently political issue and any solutions will have to be based on pragmatic compromises that will ultimately leave everybody unhappy: the conservationists, the businessmen, the politicians, the consumers and the fishermen alike.

If we want to partake in the process, we will only be accepted if on top of depicting the problem, we are also being perceived as being part of the solution – as in helping in education, mitigation and enforcement.
If so, we may indeed succeed in tipping the balance in favor of conservation.

Don’t give up.

In Freundschaft