Sunday, February 19, 2012

Singapore - the Shark Fin industry strikes back!

Infographic by the SOSF - read this!

Gotta hand it to the man.
Dr Choo-hoo Giam (BVSc, MRCVS (England), Member, Animals committee, UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is crafty.
From the document.

By repetition and media advertorials, the world is misled into believing that
  • 73 million sharks are killed specifically for their fins
  • Most of the fins are cruelly taken from live sharks.
The world is repeatedly told that sharks are endangered, and in a dire strait. The shark status is posited as equivalent to that of the orang utan, panda, gorilla, elephants, and caviar. An examination of the facts, and practices of countries, shows otherwise.
  • 1. There are more than 400 shark species.
    It is wrong to say that sharks are endangered. It is akin to saying birds are endangered. Some cockatoos are, but not crows and house sparrows.
  • 4. It would seem that no country considers sharks to be globally endangered.
    No country has proposed to list sharks in CITES Appendix I after the listing of the sawfish in 2007. This is not the case with other wildlife. At the last CITES Conference of the Parties (COP), Qatar, 2010, Monaco proposed that the Atlantic blue fin tuna be in Appendix I. This proposal was supported by many countries. Only a few sharks were proposed to be listed in Appendix II. They were all rejected by the meeting.
Of course he is right.
The only verified number we currently dispose of is 38 million (plus or minus) for the number of Sharks whose fins were being traded more than ten years ago. Now, that trade is probably larger and there are obviously also Sharks that are being killed but whose fins are not being traded - but at this point in time, that's all we can really say.
It is also true that not all Sharks are threatened with extinction etc.

The lesson?
We need to stop bullshitting because we will get caught out!

But the man is of course a total moron and hypocrite.
What he says sounds right but is of course bullshit - at best disingenuous and actually nothing more than (crafty) denialism and classical disinformation, and very likely paid for by the Shark fin industry.
A friend informs me that

Despite the "CITES" credentials, Giam and Jenkins are shark fin trade lobbyists with a major conflict of interest. They claim that CITES listing determines whether or not a species is threatened, yet have used their positions within CITES to actively lobby against listing for every shark species (and other marine species) ever proposed for CITES listing.
Not because the species don't meet the criteria --- but because they say that CITES should not regulate ANY marine species.

I actually happen to concur with the latter part as I also think that the best forum for managing, and thus regulating fisheries are local governments and RFMOs - but that's certainly debatable and another story altogether.

The story here is this panel discussion in Singapore.
I've done some digging and found this transcript that depicts a narrative which is, very much unsurprisingly, completely different from the sloppy (or maybe biased?) reporting by the journalists. Much of what has been actually said has merit and that, not the article will be the basis of the following.
And check out this remarkable video.

Prof. Steve Oakley's presentation here!
Now, compare that to the article!

There have also been some reactions.
I must confess that despite of several valid points he raises, I did not like the undertone of David's post - alas!
Sorry buddy, you know that I really do like you - but in the softest possible way, framing the debate in terms of class warfare does not address the problems and just adds another layer of unproductive acrimony. Do we really want to establish fair trade practices that will make it more appealing for those poor people to target Sharks? And what's wrong with managing stocks and advocating sustainability?
But such is the nature of rants - sometimes one (not me!) gets a bit carried away ! :)

Conversely, I am totally impressed by this post by Shark Savers!
Awesome! This is a must read, and the different fact sheets are as good as it gets - do keep them handy as they provide for excellent arguments for any such debates!
Anyway, the post completely dismantles Giam's propaganda and pseudo-arguments and for once, there is really nothing I could possibly add to the debate about this particular event!
Huge kudos!

There's one lesson to be learned however.
Media control is incredibly important! When getting the message out always submit written materials etc - especially when confronting crafty opponents!
The good news: in all the brouhaha, this has ended up by generating excellent pro-Shark media and Giam is now definitely outed as the shit he is! :)

But what about the big picture?
I very much concur with Oakley and Louis: long term, the solution can only consist in strict sustainability and proper management!

Please, do re-read this post - seriously, please do!
So there.
  • Like those of most big predatory Fishes, the stocks of most of those Sharks that are being targeted commercially have crashed.
    That's a well documented fact and no amount of rhetoric will ever detract from it. Other Shark populations are equally greatly diminished by wasteful fishing practices like bottom trawling that is ravaging the demersal Sharks, and others have been practically wiped out by too much pressure by too many artisanal fishermen. In that respect, I do not at all subscribe to so-called "indigenous rights" or whatever if it means that those fisheries are not to be managed.
    The above effects are often local/regional rather than global and thus each local/regional fishery must be examined separately.

  • Those depleted stocks must be allowed to recover before we can even begin to start talking about sustainability.
    That recovery will take many years and until that happens (which is unlikely as fishing is certainly not the only threat Sharks face), we the conservationists must continue to push for Shark conservation by every strategy we can possibly think of - including Giam's hypocritical if campaigners want to protect sharks, they should get their governments to ban shark catching!
    We may sometimes differ about what are the best strategies, but certainly not about the ultimate goal!

  • We must also invoke the precautionary principle and turn around the burden of proof.
    Instead of us having to do all the heavy lifting, let the fishermen prove unequivocally and attain independent certification that a particular stock has recovered (not so easy: read this!!!) and that it can be fished sustainably. Doing so is in their very own interest as only sustainable fishing will ensure that the industry (and the jobs and the income) can survive in the long term.

  • Sustainability has to be defined in the broadest possible sense, meaning that the definition has to encompass all aspects of the fishery like population & management parameters but also e.g. fishing techniques (no finning!), bycatch mitigation and collateral effects on the habitat etc - and yes, why not also David's fair trade!

  • But once the criteria have been met, there is no objective reason to prohibit Shark fishing and if by then, people in Asia still want to eat the fins, they can certainly do so.
    Right now, the BC Spiny Dogfish fishery is certified and despite of the widespread reservations against the MSC, at least one researcher deems that the certification is OK. If so, I really see no reason why the fins cannot be consumed - but let the fin traders, not the authorities, prove whether the fins they are selling are legit!

  • Some countries may still opt not to fish for Sharks even if it could be done in sustainable numbers. I'm thinking about those highly tourism dependent island countries where other considerations may prevail, like in this case study from Kiribas. But of course, I'm principally thinking of those countries that have already established sanctuaries and are already reaping the benefits of having done so.
    If so, kudos to them for looking beyond the strict short term!
As always, just my two cents!

David's riposte here - now I'm embarrassed! :)
Patric on developing new talking points whilst ditching the old ones here.


Anonymous said...

Shark Savers ROCKS! Going head-to-head in a public debate and in the media with a representative of the very industry that is helping to decimate shark populations, takes a strong international team, dedicated volunteers, and a clear understanding of all sides of the issue. Brilliant strategy to call-out the bullshit and set the record straight! BRAVO, indeed.

Robert said...

I like your comment about turning around the burden of proof".
I have said in more than a few meetings " we are supposed to save & protect our environment until we have proof that consuming or changing will not make things worse"

Fishermen don't want to listen to independent scientists.
& we've seen some of them pay to get biased reports.

DaShark said...

Fishermen want to fish which is obviously legit.

Alas they are the modern embodiment of the tragedy of the commons & just don't seem to understand that if they continue to overfish, they'll all be out of a job sooner rather than later.

But then again, the conservation movement is long on predictions of doomsday scenarios that did not eventuate and has lost much good will and credibility, too.

It really is high time to become more pragmatic and solution oriented, and to enter into partnerships rather than dogmatic confrontation.
If there is dialogue and consensual decision making, the result will be a win win for everybody involved.

Not easy by any stretch of the imagination - but the only way forward in the long term.

Save turtles borneo said...

Your comment about media control is very true. After a debate that was clearly about saving shark populations, the media turned it round and quoted from literature provided by Dr Giam. After decades of working to protect sharks, I find myself tarred and feathered for supporting the pro shark fin industry. The news reports twisted what was said to achieve their own sensational headlines.
The importance of PR and crisis managers designing campaigns becomes clear. Reading of the actual discussion as you have done shows that we are calling for any form of sustainable regulation to replace the unregulated fishery and trade that exists at the moment. Many of the news reports managed to portray a completely different picture. It is credit to Shark savers that has corrected the misinformation campaign.

We all need to learn from this, our presentations prepared so carefully were seen by few people and not quoted at all by the media. The meme or sound bites made afterwards were edited to support the journalist interpretation and were passed around the world. In future, it makes sense to have prepared statements rather than to face TV and media interviews with off the cuff remarks which have an unfortunate ability to turn round and bite.
Prof Steve Oakley Speaker at shark fin debate in Singapore.

jsd said...

'In future, it makes sense to have prepared statements rather than to face TV and media interviews with off the cuff remarks which have an unfortunate ability to turn round and bite.'

- It's a stinker. A journalist will promise to respect what you say to get you to say it and then not give a damn how your statement is used (if at all). Or even if he does, his editor upstairs doesn't and will use it as he sees fit.

Anyone who has been following the recent hearings about the Murdoch press in the UK will realise how deep the problems go.

DaShark said...

Indeed - it is terribly tricky!

I tend to only give (very few) interviews on camera and when it comes to newspapers, insist on getting written questions to which I respond in writing.
Not fail-proof but at least there is a track record for future corrections.

Steve I was very impressed by what you actually said - very much down my alley!

I also notice that you count Sharks.
Please check out our newest initiative here.
I'm sure you've heard of Christine and would very much support you two exchanging notes!

DaShark said...

Oh and having finally read your original presentation and added that link in the body of the post:

Thank you for mentioning Fiji! :)