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CONSERVATION AND INDUSTRY
By S Dale Bowman (Scotty), National Director, Earthrace Conservation New Zealand
I initially titled this note Conservation Vs Industry and as soon as I saw it on the screen I realized I had a fallen into the trap that many of us do without even thinking about it. To make a change in any situation the solution always involves all parties working together, not battling one another. I would say my road to marine conservation has not been an orthodox one and anybody who has known me for a long period of time would no doubt agree. I have found myself in some ‘interesting’ situations over the years and a few of those most recently. Life certainly became a lot more challenging after getting involved with Earthrace and knocking around with the Skipper. I use the word challenging in a positive way as I feel I have accomplished far more in the last 2 years after meeting Pete and learning that anger can be channeled into productive and meaningful uses. As I said, my road to this life was not the norm but I never thought it would lead to sitting in the galley of an independent commercial fishing vessel, having a few quiet beers with the captain and his crew, discussing Hector’s dolphins, amongst a number of other topics that I was surprised they were interested in.
Those of you who know me know I am not usually the smallest bloke in the room but let me tell you I was feeling pretty insecure surrounded by a galley full of fishermen and a small doorway and staircase as my only escape route. In hindsight I maybe wouldn’t have gone to the met wearing my Earthrace hoodie but hindsight is a tool of the less prepared, and it would have saved me from marrying my first wife. Things were pretty tense to start off with, on the boat, not my first marriage, things got tense toward the end there. I guess I looked like the enemy and it took a little while and two beers before they saw I wasn’t there to fight but to listen. And I did, I listened to not some crew of evil killers but a bunch of average kiwi blokes trying their best to make a living. They had wives, children, pets, bills, concerns, just like the rest of us. Did they understand why conservationists are doing what we do? I think so. Do they understand the importance of it? Maybe. Do they catch Hector’s dolphins in their nets? Without them saying it in words, the answer to that is yes. Do they feel bad about it? Yes. Can we find some common ground to work from to stop it from happening? Yes, but it is going to take some serious work from informed scientists, realistic conservationists and a proactive government.
So moving forward, do we have informed scientists? We sure do, I know this because one of them is a personal hero of mine. You don’t research something for almost 30 years and not know what you are talking about. Do we have realistic conservationists? Maybe. Most of my day jobs have involved high levels of negotiation and what I believe will need to take place to effect a change in commercial fishing practices in New Zealand will be some give and take. Not willing to compromise your position and standing firm without giving an inch is not negotiation; it’s more like Green Party policy, sounds good in fantasy land but doesn’t cut the mustard in the real world.
Do we have a proactive government? Not even close. We are currently ruled by a dictatorship that is playing by the rules set out by global corporations and dominant world leaders. The current New Zealand government sees our environment as an asset that they can rent, sell and trade. Until we see a shift in the thought processes of the general public away from personality politics we can expect no change of leadership. The John Key lead National party have shown no interest in the health of the New Zealand environment, the Minister of Conservation has no interest in her portfolio, the Minister of Primary Industries has deemed the deaths of an endangered species as acceptable in the interests of commercial fishing and John Key will have to rewrite the New Zealand Constitution to enable him to sign a document that gives away our rights and freedom as a nation to US law for the next hundred years. Don’t know about the TPPA? Google it!
Back to the boat, a few more beers have been consumed and as much as I see the crew as normal kiwi lads they are just figuring out I am much the same, tension has been minimized. First thing that comes out is that they actually have a lot of respect for the boss, they hate whaling as much as the rest of us and Pete jumping on the Shonan Maru 2 has gained me some ground. I gained a bit more when I talked about going to Namibia with Pete on campaign last year fighting against the seal slaughter. Don’t get me wrong, seals are no friend of the commercial fisherman but the thought of them being bludgeoned to death in their thousands doesn’t appeal to even these guys. We talked about that mission for a while and they were blown away at the stuff we saw. At this point I knew that we were going to find some common ground to work from, it may be small but it existed! Any career sales person will know the phrase, ‘Always be closing!’ I was going to nudge things in that direction.
When I left the boat I wouldn’t say I had made any friends but we certainly reached a level of mutual respect for one another. It was a good first encounter and it has given me the drive to open a dialogue with other crews around the country. There has to be an economic balance calculated between commercial fishing and conservation. A formula that both sides can agree on and a government can comprehend. Both sides are going to have to be willing to give a little to take a little. The government needs to be willing to accept less tax and commit more financial input. Can this be accomplished? Hell yes. The right people need to be negotiating at the right time. We can work together and we can find a platform to move forward from. What needs to happen for this to become reality? A change in government, a change in the approach from conservation organizations and a change in the leadership of the commercial fishing industry. Currently, too many people are making too much back pocket money from an industry that knows no rules, faces no consequences and has friends in the highest of places.
Think, speak, act! – Be the change!