For at least a year if not two, participants at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) predicted one or more "non-use" NGOs would launch a made-for-media campaign against the sustainable use of sharks. The pattern and methodology was equally predictable.
The first surprise, however, came in the timely inclusion of "Jaws" author, Peter Benchley (it is the 25th anniversary of his blockbuster movie by the same name, complete with a two-cassette "anniversary" version of the film for video).
The second surprise was that the NGO/animal rights/environmental groups eyeing such an enterprise created a wholly new entity comprise of Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) staffers, called WildAid. Both are very deft moves.
Organized ostensibly to "reduce consumption of shark fin soup" thereby devaluing the hunt shark's fins, the effort is on target to blitz the worldwide media with its allegations of environmental danger to sharks and rash claims of widespread "shark finning" for a 30-day period beginning July 20. Initial activities focused on the largely Singapore-based Shark Fin soup industry, enabling the anti-soup activists to lace their campaign rhetoric aimed at an ill-informed Western audience with innuendoes that play to the anti-Asian sentiment and their audience's ignorance of Asian cultural practices.
The campaign is financed by the San Francisco-based, Barbara Delano Foundation. Peter Knights, the WildAid shark soup spokesman and an EIA co-founder, is said to have effective control over the Foundation and directs grants from its endowment rumored to be $200 million although $40 million is the figure used in its literature. Knights is said to direct foundation grants primarily to EIA-involved projects.
The Barbara Delano Foundation itself was created in 1985 by Barbara Delano Gauntlett, granddaughter of Dr. William E. Upjohn, founder of the Upjohn pharmaceutical company. Suwanna Gauntlett, president of the Foundation, is the only non-EIA member on the WildAid board. Ironically, the pharmaceutical industry is under equally heavy attack by many of the same NGOs backing the WildAid effort for its live-saving research involving plants and animals.
The genesis of the WildAid campaign was the NGO-orchestrated and Barbara Delano Foundation-financed "Shark Conference 2000" held in Hawaii this past February. Holding "conferences" with select government and academic attendees is also characteristic of NGO methodology. It's a technique developed by the anti-shrimp farm and fishery movement with their "Shrimp Tribunal" in the early '90s. Then they rented a meeting room at the UN Complex in New York to give the proceedings the illusion of UN sponsorship. A brilliant PR move.
Equally characteristic of NGO rhetoric associated with campaigns such as WildAid's anti-soup crusade are the deceptively manipulative devices employed. For example, WildAid is decrying the shark fin soup industry because of the great value placed on shark fins. At the same time, the WildAid literature says the market for shark fins is threatening poor fishermen from impoverished fishing villages throughout the world who depend upon shark meat for a "cheap" source of protein. At the same time, they ignore the reality that those same coastal fishermen not only savor shark meat to feed their families but also supply a great deal of the fins to the soup industry in order to bolster their meager income. India, for example, is a major fin provider.
If WildAid truly cared about sharks and people too it would recognize the fact that the sustainable use of shark resources provides both, meat for protein as well as economic benefits from selling the fins, hides, cartilage, carcasses and oil in a sustainable manner. Apparently attempting to inject reality into an issue is detrimental to the new NGO's fundraising and headline grabbing plans.