Monday, 5 April 2010

Take a deep breath...

It is with some trepidation that I poke my head above the parapet to write this blog. The dust is beginning to settle after CITES and everyone's thoughts are starting to clear. The more cynical of the NGO's have dried their faux tears whilst the more astute peer out from their locked studies for a break from their already half drawn battle plans for the next phase. What prompts me to write today of all days is that in my mail this morning was a post by my friend and shark hero Wolfgang Leander alerting his followers to this blog. It is a well written and well researched piece, and everyone should go and read it. I have to say that the tone of the piece hits the nail squarely on the head. The most surprising aspect to the article is a link to a video by Oceana which must surely be the most discraceful piece of conservation PR I have ever seen (and I used to be a fan..shame on you Oceana...(but more of that later)).

Somewhere between 1781 and 1785 Thomas Jefferson asked "What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypoctrites". He was talking about christianity back then, but the words apply equally today, particularly aptly to the lobbying of delegates at CITES. But who are the real fools? Are the conservation protagonists at fault in the first place for believing that there could ever really be hope in conservation goals at a convention dealing with trade in species? Personally, and I hesitate to say it, there is too much hippy idealism working within the conservation sphere. Take the Oceana video. A girl that can be little older than a graduate, she may at a push be post doctorate, paints a quaint picture of her personal and corporate dispair at the pro-conservation failure at CITES. She drops a failed simile in the name of science (I'm sorry...10 million kilograms of shark fins is how many elephants??!!) whilst her colleagues cackle in the background, sounding very sippy champagny. Sorry again Oceana but if your delegates did have a "really exhilarating and really exhausting day" shouldn't they be too tired for that?). What is needed desperately in this realm are hardened negotiators. The Oceana party (excuse the pun) should have been made up of experienced and hairy looking scientists, (or better still, field researchers), who can hold court with their commercial counterparts. In the corporate world, would you send a post-grad to broker a multi million pound merger, or your top honcho who cuts heads of in her coffee break? (Yes, women can be hairy too).

Before degrees became so dissapointingly de rigeur, the way you learned your skill was as an apprentice. It was impossible to jump up the ranks just because you were fortunate enough to be able to afford a few more years of education and earn a degree. I was speaking to a retired professional a few days ago who told me that a non negotiable prerequisite back when he was climbing the corporate ladder, to enter middle management was that you had to be forty five years old and not one day less. Sure, society has realised since then that if you are 45 you still might be stupid, but we have failed to hold dear the value of essential experience. We know without question that the future of our planet lies with the younger generation, but to hand the torch to student negotiators is far too permature, and just a little more than pinky quaint. How could we have improved the experience for delegates at CITES? An impromptu performance of high school musical, or a reasoned debate with a sunburned fifty something with bugs in his beard?

So what do we do next? If there is one message that should be adhered to post-CITES, it is that the emphasis on regional fisheries management agencies should be taken very seriously, and is the field where battles will be won. I have long said that there is a huge disparity between dive centre operators and real conservation initiatives, and who should be more passionate about their local maritime health and wellbeing than the network of local dive operators utilising it? There is a fine example of this going on right now in Hawaii where stalwart shark advocate Stephanie Brendl is rallying support for important local legistalation that will, if successful provide a precedent for global shark conservation initiatives.

I remember back a few years when attending DEMA and conversing with what we thought were a leading global shark conservation NGO: "well oh yes we know Ecuador has a terrible problem with shark fishing, here "take some leaflets". The feeling that I had been betrayed in that moment has never left me. Leaflets. LEAFLETS!! I can just imagine the next board meeting for that NGO. "Oh yes we are now 'in Ecuador'".

Things have moved on for my collueagues and I in Ecuador. We are now operating our own science based research, supported by doers, not talkers, from around the world and this year, we became Save Our Seas grant holders to continue our work there. We are fighting our corner, but we need our own hardened delegates to support us on the world stage. We should take a lesson from the Japanese, who practice a British political trait observed back in 1824 by historian and politician Thomas Babington: "The object of oratory alone is not truth, but persuasion".


Jupp Kerckerinck said...

I don't want to get any deeper into this discussion because I don't think it will take us anywhere.

To all the posts I read about the failure of NGOs at CITES in Doha, some of which really hold some good advice, I have but one question:

Where have you smart wizards been from March 13th to March 25th? Don't you think you are a bit late?

Mark Harding said...

No I don't think it is too late. How do I see it? I think that the shark conservation movement is in a state of flux. In many ways 'the movement' has done a lot, in the sense of education and dissemination, but this 'muchness of effort' has only really delivered us to phase one, where 'we' begin to act upon the job at hand with the support that we have garnered over [very] recent years. A politician is lonely and inert if he is not a member of a popular party. It is not enough to have good ideas. Those ideas must be adopted, and it is out there, or in here, the public fora, that such ideas are mooted.

Jupp said...

that's not was I was talking about. I find it a bit arrogant what I read in different blogs and I asked, where have all the smart wizards been while we were in Doha?
Why did they not offer this advice before we went? It is always easy to complain afterwards but the sharks and the blue fin tunas could have profited from all this good advice. So my questions remains: Where were you guys before Doha?

Mark Harding said...

Well, I can only speak for myself, I had an open mind as to whether I was going or not, but as it turned out, I had no funds to go, the 'bodies' thinking I should go, turned out to have no money, and I for one have none and do pretty much everything on a shoestring. Maybe you could pay for me next time? Or is your question purely rhetorical?

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