When the photographer Alex Hofford first contacted EcoHustler and asked if we would write about shark finning drawing on the images and video from his Man and Shark project we had no idea where it would all lead. I certainly didn’t think we would end up organizing an event in China Town on Chinese New Year! I am not sure how it happened but after a great day raising awareness about sharks I am very glad Alex got in touch and that we all decided to go a step further and take action! Massive thanks to everyone who came down and joined the Shark Side and big props to Global Ocean who are collecting signatures for their important petition.
Initially the idea of making a stand in China Town went down like a proposal for a pay toilet in a diarrhoea ward. Several UK shark organizations we contacted actually told us not to do it. Apparently we were being politically incorrect and culturally insensitive. The trouble is, eating shark fin is a cultural phenomenon so you have two choices: be politically correct and look the other way or strap a pair on and have a conversation with the people who like to eat it. 90% of all the sharks that were in the oceans have been removed… so we decided it was a conversation worth having.
We advertised the direct action publicly on this site. After the Mark Kennedy scandal I joked with friends that the first few emails I received from people wanting to join in would be policemen. It wasn’t a massive surprise therefore when I got to the allocated meeting place to be immediately jumped upon by two undercover police officers. Initially they were confrontational and almost threatening. Pretty soon they seemed to realize that we didn’t want to cause trouble and they became polite and asked us to move up the road which we did. Unfortunately it wasn’t until a bit later that I realized the police offers were skillfully keeping us away from the Chinese Ambassador and all the press. When we walked back up to the throng I was grabbed and actually read my rights. I am fairly sure that I wasn’t breaking any laws but apparently you need a permit to speak your mind in public… or something.
Once the ambassador had gone we fanned out and handed out hundreds of flyers. These are available for download here: 110201_GO_Leaflet_A5_02. We also have hard copies available. If you would like to use some drop us an email and we can post you a good stash.
Although we missed the photographers we did interviews with LBC radio and BBC London. We had a great reception in China Town. People were not offended or angry that we were there, they seemed genuinely concerned about the plight of sharks and keen to find out more. Generally, most people have no idea how endangered sharks are and how serious this is for marine ecology. We had an interesting conversation with a restauranteur who was clearly concerned about the bad PR his place might get still serving sharks fin.
In the pub afterwards we were all very happy to have made the effort and to have taken a stand for sharks. The main thing we learnt is how easy it was for a relatively small number of us to have a big impact. We will certainly be taking further action possibly against specific restaurants. For example, the Royal China chain probably sells the most endangered shark parts in London and their restaurants are not in China Town. (On their website they say they don’t sell shark fin but I have checked in the restaurants and they definitely still do).
Although it is important to rally around iconic species that are in danger such as sharks, rhinos, tigers, whales etc it is clearly also very important to respond to the socio-economic forces driving their demise. Most large, marine animals killed by humans will be caught by large-scale, corporate fishing operations which are currently totally unsustainable. We have to keep the pressure on governments to regulate this industry effectively to allow marine ecosystems to recover. This is especially important now with the up and coming review of the Common Fisheries Policy. Our work is just beginning!
The Shark Side on other sites: