Monday, June 25, 2012

Paradigm Shift required!

Shark finning bans - not good enough!

And I cite.

The purpose of the post is to educate those individual activists and small organizations who create “awareness” videos that do not have their facts straight. I’ve come across too many of these to count in recent weeks, and “spreading awareness” of the wrong facts doesn’t help.

Finning Bans?

The myth-busting continues - after deconstructing the oxygen myth, David has now finally set his sights onto those frustrating anti-finning petitions and media.
Or maybe I'm too optimistic and he hasn't and just wants to educate everybody about the correct terminology. Be it as it may, this comes on the back of this rather epic quiz by Angelo and needed to be said.
Well done.

And before you get all worked up.
No I'm not pro-finning - on the contrary!
It is an ethical abomination and needs to be banned - but what I'm saying (read it!) is that in itself, it does not save Sharks: instead, it needs to be part of a whole package of Shark conservation measures.
Believe it or not, finning bans are a concept from the 80ies, and they have proven to be largely ineffectual in reducing Shark mortality. And by only asking for finning bans, we are actually detracting from the real issue at hand , i.e. that way too many Sharks are being killed.
Depending on where we choose to position ourselves in the ideological conservation continuum between Shark huggers and Shark fisheries managers, what we got to ask for are either full Shark fishing bans or at least, that Shark fishing quotas be fully sustainable.
The latter mandates that quotas be a fraction (I hear, approx 30%) of recruitment, that finning be prohibited, that bycatch and other impacts like habitat degradation be greatly mitigated, etc etc. - and yes, going back to the comments thread in David's post, I also believe that dumping the carcasses of landed Sharks should be penalized in the same way as illegal finning because in real terms, it is the exact same thing!

Fin Bans?

And what about those fin bans?
I must say, I am quite enjoying the brawl spirited discussion in the comments section of David's post! :)
Personally I believe both sides to be equally right and wrong, and this is why.

There are fin bans and fin bans.

The first one was Stefanie and Senator Hee's historic ban in Hawaii.
The state had already banned all Shark fishing but there was a loophole whereby Hawaii was acting as a turntable for the Shark fin trade, and this measure was meant to close that gap.

So, was that a good thing?
I fully agree with David's listing of the appropriate Shark management tools, and I cite.
  • Special protections for particularly threatened species
  • Species that aren’t particularly threatened fished according to a science-based quota
  • Appropriate bycatch reduction strategies, including gear restrictions or time/area closures
  • Appropriate reporting and enforcement.
But that may not be the full story and when viewed on a global scale and in a real world, it may also be a bit naive.
Hawaii is an important tourism destination and may have decided to ban all Shark fishing in order to fully preserve its marine habitats but possibly also for cultural reasons and in order to market itself as an ocean-loving destination or the like - and whereas that decision may not be fully rational from a scientific perspective, it is certainly legitimate. Same-same for the decision not to facilitate the global fin trade that is presently totally non-transparent and unsustainable.

My only personal caveat, if at all.
I don't like generic food bans whereby some people arrogate themselves the right to tell others what to eat. Assuming that there could once be a certified Shark fin soup, and that it would not constitute a strong public health risk (which in the US would be for the FDA to ascertain), I would have advocated an according exemption for those fins - e.g. fins from these certified Spiny Dogfish where at least Chuck appears to say that the certification is legit.
But I'm clearly splitting hairs here - so yes, I do like the Hawaiian fin ban.

And I do like the fin bans in those Shark Sanctuaries.
There, several states and countries have taken the decision to ban all Shark fishing, this preeminently because of concerns for their marine habitats but once again also for ethical and cultural reasons, and often also because it is good for tourism.
The fin bans there are part of a whole array of measures and have another purpose and that is, to facilitate enforcement. The rationale is that instead of squandering scarce resources in trying to apprehend every illegal vessel and fisherman, one can concentrate efforts on the bottleneck, i.e. the comparatively few traders that process and export the fins - and a possession ban is the cheapest and most effective means of of achieving that aim.

But once again, I do have a caveat here.
These are stop-gap measures aimed at achieving an immediate result in the most effective and efficient way possible. But as I never tire to say, I am firmly in favor of sustainable fishing (and hunting), and this of any animal including Sharks.
There are now more than 7 billion people (and this!) and like it or not, they want to consume protein. Those are the facts on the ground and farming (aqua- and not) is not the only solution as it, too, carries severe ecological consequences. As an example, approx 43% of Earth's land has been converted to urban and especially, agricultural landscapes with much of the remaining landscapes reticulated with roads (Nature, June 2012), exerting incredible pressure on terrestrial biota. We cannot possibly want more of that can we.
Where I come from in this, is that reality on the ground dictates that there be a mix between farming and wildlife extraction, but that the latter must happen sustainably.
With that in mind, I would certainly not oppose a fully certified, fully sustainable food fishery for Sharks - but only once the fishermen have proven that it is sustainable, see the last point in this post!

And those fin bans in the US states?
I've frankly stopped bothering after California - but without knowing the minute details, here's why I don't like them much.
From what I've been told, I understand that the principal aim is to cripple the international Shark fin trade. That in itself is a legitimate cause, the more as the global trade is certainly totally unregulated and unsustainable.
The problem I see, is that the ban impinges on three different sets of fins:
  • those unprocessed fins that transit the US on the way to Asia where they will be processed for consumption.
    Yes there are a valid ethical reservations whereby we can choose not to facilitate an unsustainable animal trade - still, my question is, does closing down the route through the US really save Sharks? Will less Sharks be fished as a consequence, or will the fins be simply re-routed elsewhere?

  • processed fins that are being imported into the US to serve as ingredient in the Shark fin soup.
    Once again, I find banning them OK as long as those processed fins derive from completely unregulated and unsustainable fisheries - but I would have welcomed an exemption for any certified product, something that does not exist now but is at least conceivable in the future.
    And does this save Sharks? Certainly not directly as the Sharks have already been killed somewhere else - and when it comes to the argument that it reduces global demand and thus the pressure on Sharks, I remain highly skeptical.
    What percentage of total demand does the demand from the US represent, and does closing down that specific consumer market have any incidence whatsoever on global catches, especially in a supply limited fishery?

  • fins that come from Sharks that have been legally caught in the US and specifically, in the state that is banning possession. Yes there may be also illegally caught fins and if so, their possession is already banned and not the topic here.
    But how can it be good legislation to continue to allow that Sharks be killed, presumably because in the opinion of the legislator, the fishery is well managed, but to then demand that their fins be thrown away? It leads to the absurd outcome that somebody may legally consume, say, legally caught Thresher Shark steaks but not a soup made with the fins of that same Shark.
    Would an exemption for legally caught local Shark fins not have been a much better solution and avoided the tricky question of whether the bans are racially and culturally discriminatory?

  • And since we're at it: the fines are just ludicrous - at least in some states, like $ 100.00 to 1,000.00 in California! It would have been much better to have much higher base fines plus a mandatory additional fine that is equivalent to the value of the fins in Asia - but I hear that this has been recognized and that later legislation is taking it into account.
All-in-all, this is just poor legislation: poorly thought through, sloppy and rushed, and I can understand why David doesn't like it. But it's at least something which is probably better than nothing at all - though clearly worse than something real good!
And yes I do also understand that this is a political process which consists in pursuing realistic goals and accepting what is possible!

Long story short?
  • On a global scale, Shark continue to be killed at unsustainable rates.
    This is essentially due to poor management, often meaning a lack of management plans but above all, a lack of resources (and often also, determination) for monitoring, enforcement and prosecution. That's just how it is and when it comes to those developing and underdeveloped coastal countries, and the high seas, chances for improvement in the short term are close to nil.
    As long as that is the case, I strongly advocate the creation of large MPAs, Shark Sanctuaries and blanket Shark fishing bans - but this only as stop gap measures, so that Biodiversity and specifically, Shark populations can ark until conditions on the ground hopefully improve. That may take a very long time indeed and until then, those measure must stand.

  • But if so, let's abandon asking for finning bans and let's advocate Shark fishing bans and Shark trading bans instead!
    Let's not forget that the vast majority of countries already have finning bans, and that their practical effect in reducing Shark mortality has been close to zero, this also because of lousy enforcement!

  • When it comes to fin possession bans, they are sometimes an efficient and effective enforcement tool when flanked by fishing and trading bans. I also believe that as long as the Shark fin trade continues to be unregulated and unsustainable, there are valid ethical reasons to try and curtail it via fin bans - tho I remain skeptical about their ultimate effectiveness in reducing the number of Sharks that are being killed.

  • Some Shark populations are however well managed and there I do concur with David that bans are inappropriate.
    When there is good management in place, I am of the firm conviction that sustainable Shark fishing ought to be allowed, and this including the right to consume sustainably caught fins, local as well as imported.
    But for now, that's really the tiny, tiny minority of places - if at all! Most of the world is nowhere near as advanced as the US and possibly Europe, and wanting to apply the same parameters there is just simply hopelessly naive.

  • But maybe I'm wrong.
    Maybe we got to listen to Jimmy and especially, to Katrien who posted a great rant, I really enjoyed it! :)
    Maybe the overall situation is so bad that we got to forget the intellectual debate of what is appropriate and instead, just close our eyes and throw the kitchen sink at the problem, and hope that something will stick. With the other side embroiling us in never ending debates whilst continuing to slaughter the Sharks and running circles around those inept authorities, maybe we gotta start fighting dirty, too.
    Not 100% convinced that this is the right way forward - but I'm sure as frustrated as everybody else!
    But then again, progress has been impressive, too!
    It sure is complicated!
A Change of Paradigms

But whatever the situation, here comes the important part: we need a paradigm shift!

Contrary to the farmers that farm their own land, the fishermen have been exploiting the commons, meaning that they have been catching and making money off Fish that belong to all of us, often even thanks to subsidies the we all (!) have been paying for.
So far, the standard modus operandi has been that the fishermen have been catching whatever they could, and the track record shows that whenever they have not been curtailed, they have been overfishing recklessly, to the point that some of them have even managed to fish themselves into extinction. The result is that most Fish stocks have been severely depleted and may have even accumulated extinction debt.
Long story short: forget self regulation.

At the same time, the authorities have invested an inordinate amount of resources (for which we all have paid!) trying to manage that activity, by first paying researchers to go and collect all the relevant data and then, often when it was way too late, trying to fix the problem by managing (= reducing) the quotas and then investing more resources into monitoring, enforcement and prosecution etc.
My question is, are those investments adequately balanced by benefits (including revenues!) for all of us and is that the only and the best way to proceed going forward?

As Jimmy's comment in David thread illustrates, many conservationists including me harbor grave reservations against those fisheries researchers and managers.
There is a lingering suspicion that those people are incapable of acknowledging the fact that they are presiding over the abject failure of their own past strategies, and that they will continue to cling on to archaic paradigms and continue wasting time and money on inefficient procrastination in the main intent of preserving their own jobs. Probably not quite accurate but having met many of them, certainly not completely inaccurate, either!
And whilst those folks continue to twiddle their thumbs, Fish stocks continue to be poorly managed and continue to decline!

But we simply cannot afford to waste any more time!I say, the conventional strategies have largely failed and we must find new ways to be more effective!
Let us invoke the precautionary principle and let us reverse the burden of proof. Let those who are making the money invest all those resources that are necessary for establishing adequate management plans, and let THEM prove to US that what they do is sustainable!
And this on all levels: let anybody involved in the fishing industry, from fisherman to trader to in- and exporter prove!!! that what they do is both legal and sustainable - and until they do, let's slash the quotas or ban the activity altogether whenever there is any reasonable doubt!

Yes it is radical - but does it make sense?
I believe it does and if so, let's start talking about it now!
Change will be difficult to come by, and it will take time, especially in the midst of this persistent recession - but if we want it we will eventually be able to achieve it!
The good news being that this will free scarce resources for the authorities to concentrate on monitoring, enforcement and prosecution, and to address the other threats to marine biodiversity, ie Global Warming, Ocean Acidification, Pollution and Habitat Degradation.

Anyway, please do read David's post and the comments thread - great stuff!
Plenty to think about - especially the part about changing paradigms where I passionately believe that it is the right way forward!



Tropical Selkie said...

This blog makes me happy! Thank you. (Haven't slept well since David's came out; now I can.)

WhySharksMatter said...

Hi, Mike, and thanks for continuing an important conversation. I'll respond to the comment you left on the original post on Southern Fried Science soon, I'm in the middle of a ton of work here. I shared a link to your post on my twitter.

DaShark said...

Thanks David - I shall reply there, too!

Angelo Villagomez said...

Just a note on your timeline. CNMI had the first shark fin ban, however they did not criminalize the practice. They made it an administrative offense. Hawaii was not the first state/territory to ban shark fins, they were the first to criminalize it. The CNMI law passed in 2007. Hawaii was 2010. Of course CNMI still hasn't enforced it, other than to do outreach.

DaShark said...

Of course! :)

Megalobomb said...

A fantastic post. There are few things that drive me more insane than armchair activism extremists, and if I get one more online petition... so help me.

Your idea is commonly used in every other sector of environment, why shouldn't it be implemented for fisheries? Volkswagen is required to scientifically prove exhaust emissions standards etc., why not fisheries?

DaShark said...

Thank you!

I LIKE that!
Let's ask them to produce a good old fashioned Environmental Impact Assessment!

Wishing them the best of luck! :) (= toothy grin)