All week long during the Sharktakular, we’ve heard guest posters encourage us to educate ourselves and those around us about sharks and shark conservation by forming groups, joining groups, and getting out there ourselves and making a difference. But we aren’t all ”.orgs” with nonprofit, government-recognized status, so how can we really help?
Sonja Fordham, president of the newly formed, non-governmental initiative Shark Advocates International, joins the Sharktakular to tell us yes, we can and illuminates the important role of the non-govermental organization in shark conservation today.
Sonja Fordham: I’ve been working in shark conservation for nearly 20 years and I have never seen a time when more conservation-minded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were involved in the issue. This terrific development should give us all hope that the tide is turning and many more sharks will get the protections they need before it’s too late.
The NGOs I consider as “conservation minded” actually represent a range of perspectives including protection, sustainable fisheries, non-consumptive use, research, social equity, and animal welfare. As a result of these various core aims as well as differing skills, priorities and reach, these groups play a variety of roles in the development of shark fishing and trade rules.
I see this diversity as a strength of the shark conservation movement, in that together we cover many bases and bring many voices to the table. Of course, when groups representing all these perspectives agree, it can be particularly powerful.
Most of the NGOs engaged in shark conservation aim to promote healthy shark populations and stop overfishing and waste of sharks. Many also oppose inhumane treatment of sharks, certain fishing gear types or products, and/or shark fishing altogether.
Together, these groups generally serve to speak for the sharks and the public interest, educate the public and policy makers, balance short-term economic interests, bridge the gap between science and policy, and promote research. In terms of activities, NGO representatives might meet with government officials, provide testimony on proposed management actions, alert others to opportunities to influence such measures, issue reports and articles, generate media attention, serve on advisory panels, take legal action, hold rallies, and/or disrupt fishing operations or negotiations.
My new organization, Shark Advocates International, was established as a project of The Ocean Foundation to advance science-based national and international shark conservation policies. We specialize in translating scientific advice into fishing and trade limits through active participation in shark management debates and processes.
Long-term “in the trenches” experience helps us in our efforts to defend existing shark safeguards and promote positive changes. Most of our advocacy work is done in a collaborative way, mainly by forming coalitions of NGOs and scientists to take a common stand on a shark management issue and then making timely appeals to government on behalf of those interests.
The growing NGO interest in sharks is resulting in heightened sensitivity to the issue within governments and increased acceptance by more traditional stakeholders, as well as new and improved shark conservation policies. At the same time, NGOs remain outnumbered in the shark fisheries management arena and our battle is still an uphill one. In too many cases, time is running out.
I find great promise in on-line forums such as this one which are breaking new ground and uniting the diverse array of people who want to see sharks better protected. I am hopeful that together we can focus and enhance the influence of the NGO community with respect to shark conservation decisions and, in turn, build a brighter future for these valuable yet vulnerable animals.
We welcome your assistance with our cause.