Sea Shepherd and The Economist
On September 20, 2007, the influential British magazine The Economist cited the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in an article on sharks and the Galapagos. It was an important article highlighting the inconsistencies in the government of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on environmental issues, and especially on the issue of shark finning.
Unfortunately, there were two inaccuracies in the story.
First, The Economist stated that "Ecuador has fallen behind rivals such as Peru and Costa Rica in environmental conservation." To the contrary, "From our experience in Ecuador, Colombia, and Costa Rica, I would place Costa Rica in the position of being the least environmentally responsible, especially when it comes to shark finning," said Captain Paul Watson, Founder and President of Sea Shepherd. "Costa Rica's corruption on this issue has been blatantly responsible for a far higher rate of poaching than in Ecuador. There is more protection for sharks in the Galapagos than at Costa Rica's Cocos Island National Park." Sea Shepherd was banned from Costa Rican waters in 2002, after exposing the extent of the shark fin trade. The movie Sharkwater focuses on Costa Rica as the primary culprit in the trade in shark fins. During June and July 2007, Sea Shepherd was instrumental in exposing and seizing some 45,000 shark fins in Ecuador where it has worked in partnership with the Galapagos National Park and the Ecuadorian National Environmental Police.
Second, The Economist inaccurately described Sea Shepherd as "an American green group." Sea Shepherd is, in fact, registered as a charitable organization in Great Britain where the magazine is published. Sea Shepherd also has an official presence in the United States, Europe, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, and Ecuador. Sea Shepherd is not only an international organization, but also an Ecuadorian organization, with a permanent office in the Galapagos and representation in Quito.
The article quotes Carlos Vallejo, the Ecuadorian Agricultural Minister, as saying "It's very easy to be an environmentalist. Many of them come from well-off families." According to Vallejo, Sea Shepherd campaigns amounted to criticizing the poor, who were merely trying to put food on the table. The problem with this position is that justification of criminal activity by the poor is misleading. Sea Shepherd interventions in Ecuador have been against poaching operations and smugglers, and the arrests have been directed against people who make large profits from their criminal activity and who hold inappropriate influence over elected politicians. "We don't bust poor fishermen; we target wealthy smugglers," said Sea Shepherd Galapagos Director Sean O'Hearn, the man President Correa ordered arrested for working with the Ecuadorian police to raid shark finning operations.
The poachers and smugglers targeted by Sea Shepherd are ruthless criminals hiding behind the myth that they are just poor fishermen trying to feed their families. "I suppose that the same argument could work in Colombia, where it could be said that the narco-cocaine growers are just poor farmers trying to feed their families," said Captain Watson. "The fact is that there is no difference between shark finning and the drug trade. Both are illegal operations."
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