Friday, June 11, 2010

Shark Conservation and the Ugly Politics of Ideas

This post is in response to series of emails I received today. It is about ideas, shark conservation, and the growing ugly internal politics of saving sharks.

A good friend once said about the shark conservation world, "we're all just glorious beggars."

He was talking about the fact that 90% of the shark conservation efforts out there, ones that have great ideas and boots on the ground, are most often stymied by a lack of funding.

How many of us have seen, "Save the Shark" booths selling a few plush toys to pay for the next round of information flyers, or even a simple media campaign?

Does anyone know of one NGO, shark group, or individual who is not is some sort of crisis over funding shortages?

In fact when I asked about funding sources from the smaller NGO's I got the same three answers.

Grants, public and self funding. That is the full extent of how these orgs get the funds they desperately need to effect conservation change.

So I started looking into shark conservation funding a few months ago starting with the question "what if we did things differently?" That investigation has set off a storm of ugly emails, accusations, and starkly nasty shark politics.

After 3 months of looking into, "doing things differently" here's what I discovered.

Online Shark Fin Trade

The global shark fin trade has a robust online component to it. For the most part this trade is done on about seven different trading platforms that may, or may not, be owned by just two individuals. These platforms come and go. Since shark fin is not illegal these platforms generally operate in the open.

Shutting one down causes another to pop up.

Shark fin trade platforms work with two business models. One is a percentage of the total trade value going back to the platform, the other is a flat fee per trade. Most trades are a minimum of 1000 kilos to as high as 50k kilos. These trades are done worldwide by country aggregators who trade to end users in Asia.

It is, as you know, a thriving business.

I then focused on the volume of money being generated by these trades. As it stands now this money goes into accounts of a few individuals who, one can only assume, do not use these funds to pay for enforcement efforts in the Galapagos, PSA videos, anti-shark fin campaigns, or any of a host of initiatives the shark conservation world struggles with.

The Idea

Could it be possible to open a trade platform with a lower percentage rate or flat fee and essentially "own" the trade online, beating the shark fin traders at their own game, with 100% of the proceeds feeding directly into the shark conservation movement?

These platforms would not create new markets for the online sale of dried and fresh shark fin just consolidate existing markets to benefit conservation.

Radical idea? You bet, but one that eventually I came to discover could not only be done, but might net as much as $20-50K a day in trade proceeds along with a plethora of real time trade data that is desperately needed.

Let's look at that number again $20,000-$50,000 a day in funding for shark conservation efforts.

What Happened Next

They say "ideas are dangerous things," they are right. I work with a number of shark conservation folks so when something happens in this world I generally hear about it. Last week I took my radical idea and went to a person in the shark world to get a feeling for it. I had come to the end of my line of inquiry and now I wanted to feel out the conservation side.

The conversation was private, and was understood to be so.

That person, much to my disgust, took my idea and sent it around the entire shark conservation world. Others added their own personal and ugly takes and now it seems there's rumors floating about that run the gamut from "Patric Douglas has secret shark fin accounts in the Caymans," to "Patric Douglas hates sharks."

As of today I have removed myself from three conservation groups I have been working with all because of an "idea" and those few within the shark conservation world who have decided to make this "idea" a burning issue. This was my decision to make.

The Challenge

I do not know how the shark conservation world will fund their efforts or acquire the real time shark fin data they need to make strong fact based conservation arguments. Perhaps facts are not even part of the equation.

I do know there are many bright, smart, savvy folks who could use $100,000 to make their efforts fly. I also know that as of today $20-50,000 of shark fin trade money went into the accounts of a few who do not care for sharks, the environment, or the oceans.

If the shark conservation world can come up with a better plan for funding I would love to hear about it and that is the challenge we all face trying to effect conservation change.

Money drives conservation.

As for the emails, rumors, and associated gossip about the idea?

Folks, we have a shark crisis on our hands. We can all run around trying the same old things, or we can start thinking differently. I think differently.

Now, if you'll excuse me I am either on my way to the private jet and the Caymans for the weekend or here in Florida trying to effect shark conservation change with no money and another conservation idea.

Depending on which email you wrote this week or were involved in, it could be either.

For those who know me, I am in Florida.

Patric Douglas CEO

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