Friday, May 22, 2009

Congratulations from our Peers and Supporters are flowing in

I want to join the many voices congratulating the Shark Safe Project for a successful outcome! Also, any successful outcome is worthy of in-depth study and analysis: we need to learn what they did right so that we can emulate their success elsewhere!

This successful outcome is a big deal, but it certainly doesn’t mean that we shark conservationists have nothing left to do. There are similar tournaments nationwide and worldwide, as well as numerous other threats to sharks.

Let’s look at how they did it.

1) Nonviolent, non-invasive methods. If they had used Sea Shepherd’s tactics of vandalism, in-your-face protests, destroying fishing boats involved in this tournament, and antagonizing participating fisherman, I don’t believe that there would have been a successful outcome. I believe that we would not only have a shark killing tournament, but would also have a group of people hostile towards shark conservation in general because they have been irritated by extremists. Instead, Shark Safe wrote letters to the editor of newspapers and appeared on news shows, spoke to groups of citizens, and spoke to tournament organizers and local officials.

2) Offering an alternative. Shark Safe organizers didn’t call for the tournament to be canceled, they simply requested a format change from “kill” to “catch-and-release”. If they had taken a more extreme approach, it is extremely unlikely that they would have been successful. Tournament organizers had already spent a great deal of money and time promoting this tournament and would likely have been unwilling to cancel it. All the studies I’ve seen show that sharks suffer no long-term damage from catch-and-release fishing (indeed, that’s how we shark scientists study sharks to begin with). If you tell a fisherman that they can’t fish at all, they’re not going to listen to you. If you explain to a fisherman why it’s a good idea to change their methods (and provide them with an alternative), maybe they’ll listen like they did here.

3) Mobilizing a large group of talented people. Felix at Oceanic dreams has a list of some of the important players involved, but the list includes shark scientists, NGO leaders, and media and public relations experts from around the country. They also recruited passionate locals. It is impossible to know which of these groups was the most helpful, but it is easy to see how leaving out one of these groups could have resulted in an unsuccessful outcome. Scientists provide credibility, and NGOs are experts in organizing and educating, but both groups have had difficulty with the media’s coverage of sharks in the past. These three groups, who came from (and worked from without actually coming to Florida) all over the country might not have been listened to without the participation of locals, because strangers are sometimes not trusted as much as neighbors even if they are experts.

When all of these factors came together, we have a successful outcome, and some sharks in Florida won’t die needlessly this summer.

Congratulations to everyone who helped make this possible. My only regret is that I didn’t help.


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