Yesterday’s gillnet post isn’t the sort of topic I’d shared on social media previously. I’m still working out how to discuss the realities of working in marine conservation, while also acknowledging that I’m mostly thinking about fish puns.
First, I did my PhD on stingrays. Seeing a few rays caught inside that net made me feel fucking awful. It was not a good day.
That’s what I felt. The following is what I think.
No, we didn’t remove the net. It’d weigh hundreds of kilograms and would sink our small research boat.
I didn’t destroy the net either. It’d just become another ghost net. I won’t destroy or confiscate equipment without being 100% sure of the legal implications. Bear in mind that we have no legal authority for law enforcement. We could be committing a crime ourselves.
Odds on, the fishers aren’t bad guys. I’ve worked, and got on well with, plenty of shark and ray fishers previously. Catching rays is legal here – even if I don’t like it – as it is in most other countries. If there are minimal checks on fishing practices then naturally they’ll use whichever techniques are easiest and effective, regardless of whether they’re formally allowed to or not.
Ultimately, I won’t destroy or remove a critical tool to people’s livelihoods without first engaging with them on the issue at hand. They’re working to look after themselves and their families under difficult conditions. If these particular fishers haven’t entangled a whale shark before, they probably think they can deal with it if it happens. They might be right, too.
To get whale sharks protected here, both on paper and in practice, our work has to be respected by both the authorities and the communities affected by the necessary changes. That’ll also help the rays and other animals that share their habitat.
The fishers here need to be involved with whatever changes are made. Lasting conservation change happens when you understand and respect the “other sides” perspective too, and work together to find a solution. That’s what we’ll do next.
That doesn’t make me feel better about yesterday. But it does make me feel better about tomorrow.
P.S. If you want to see a cool video about our Mafia project, check out this one from Steve De Neef / Nat Geo:
Like geeky animal facts and dad jokes?
I write a few articles just for my mailing list. They normally focus on something interesting, and possibly hilarious, that I've learnt about sharks (or other random animals) that week. There may also be groan-inducing jokes.
Real talk: there will be groan-inducing jokes.