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  • Writer's pictureFranklin Vega

Pandas versus Sharks: Why is WWF backing the Fishing Industry?

WWF is a renowned NGO that use the panda bear as a symbol of conservation. This NGO has come under fire several times for its alliances with large industry companies around the world involve in extractivism activities (see endnotes).

The headline of this note is the preliminary balance of a busy week for marine conservation. The debate was sparked by the evidence of the magnitude of shark fishing in Ecuador and the attempt to normalize the capture and commercialization of sharks.

The trigger was a headline of the online show Azul Sostenible (Sustainable Blue) of TUNACONS, an organization of five large tuna companies, which since May is an NGO recognized by the Ministry of Production of Ecuador. This program is normally used by the industry to defend its interests. Up to this point nothing new.

However, what started an avalanche of criticism was the headline of one of the latest streamings: “Sustainable fishing of giant squid, sea cucumbers, sharks and tuna inside and outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve”

Add to the top of this shocking headline was to see as keyspeaker to Pablo Guerrero. Guerrero is the director of marine landscape and conservation at WWF-Ecuador (World Wide Fund Ecuador).

The headline, which included fishing for sharks inside Galapagos, was immediately withdrawn, but not the intention to normalize shark fishing, which is theoretically prohibited in Ecuador.

In fact, at the time of writing these lines (Saturday, July 24), the topic "Scientific criteria on the management of shark fishing in the Pacific Ocean" was streamed in the same online program. It also counted with a well known IUCN focal point for Mexico who also defended shark fishing. For this sector, shark fishing is acceptable and they seek "scientific" sustenance in other countries such as Mexico.

It seems that the big tuna industry is very confident that they will be allowed to qualify shark fishing as "sustainable". But the answers were immediate: Luis Villanueva noted that "there is overexploitation of shark fisheries in Mexico and therefore, the Revillagigedo National Park was designated in 2017."

The rain of criticism crossed the borders and reached the producers of #Seaspiracy - the documentary released in March, which showed the impacts of fishing. This documentary also heavily questioned the practices of the WWF specially fishing certification schemes. These certification are paid by the same industry leaving any type of auditing out of rigurosity. The precedent image couldn’t be clearer, a tuna swims in the sea with a panda mask. This #Seaspiracy claim lead to several cancellations of WWF memberships.

In Ecuador, although shark fishing is prohibited, the reality is different, since the commercialization of incidental fishing is allowed. "Incidental" refers to the accidental catch of the species that die associated with the objective such as tunas, sea bass, mahi mahi, etc. In other words, sharks are not the objective, but if one or many of them fall, you can market and export them. The Ecuadorian government does not establish a maximum percentage of bycatch. In other words: fish what you like, take what you can. Executive Decree 486 of July 20, 2007, signed by Rafael Correa. (Following this link more data on shark fishing in Ecuador).

WWF Ecuador reacted to #Seaspiracy publication with this release:

"WWF recognizes and applauds the prohibition of industrial fishing within the Galapagos Marine Reserve, supports the full protection of sharks inside this protected area, and supports the prohibition of directed fishing for sharks in all Ecuadorian waters."

We tried to expand this answers with WWF but the Director in Ecuador, Tarsicio Granizo, indicated that: “At the moment we are not going to give verbal statements. Everything we have to say is in our press release".

We would like to know why does the panda NGO do different things in Ecuador than in the rest of the world? That question was sent to the email that Mr. Granizo provided us by WhatsApp message.

In other countries, WWF fights against the ghost nets that are drift in the sea and kill all the marine life that becomes entangled, but here, in Ecuador, the WWF blesses the use of ecological Fishing Aggregating Device (FAD). The FAD works attracting fishes such as tuna even violating the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Civil Society Organization in Galapagos have collected hundreds of them. In a single cleaning they found 15 FAD.

The second question directed to WWF is why don't they support the expansion of the new Galapagos Marine Reserve? why instead WWF stands against this expansion supporting the speech of the large fishing industry?

And the third question: Do you seriously consider that there is no targeted fishing for sharks in Ecuador? There is strong evidence following the binnacle of the longline vessels that more sharks than sea bass or mahi mahi are catched. This bycatch is intended to be sold as food but in reality are fins what are valuable.

In international forums, it is not common to see the "pandas" as they are called by environmentalists, so close or aligned head-on with the Fishing industry. In Ecuador, they do it openly and even signed an "Historic Memorandum of Understanding" so that, among other things, the fishermen in Galapagos help large vessel owners to collect their FAD.

Photos taken from the signing of the Memorandum between WWF, TUNACONS, FENACOPEC, CNP, ATUNEC, and the 5 artisanal fishing cooperatives of Galapagos. They appear in the photo from left to right: Guillermo Morán (TUNACONS), Bruno Leone (National Fisheries Chamber), Tarcisio Granizo (WWF Ecuador).

In this memorandum, classified as "historical" since never happened before, WWF Ecuador "will act as cooperator for the development of the pertinent actions that are contemplated in the framework of the Project for garbage collection in the Galapagos marine reserve ". The cherry on the cake was that the Minister of Production signed as a witness of honor, on January 24, 2021.

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Here a personal note. I hope that Mr. Granizo will respond to those of us who believe that environmental NGOs should not lend themselves to greenwashing.

WWF stands for World Finning Organization

Randall Arauz, Sharks and Turtles Conservationist based in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Mr. Arauz is a winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize

In 2000, in Costa Rica, we started a fight to ban finning (the practice of cutting off sharks fins and throwing alive animals into the sea). At that time the situation of sharks was not as critical as it is now.

And while that was happening, we had the WWF playing against us and allying itself with the interests of industrial fisheries.

The WWF supported legal reforms and invented scientific evidence for the benefit of Taiwan's fishing fleet, to catch sharks without restraint with more than 100 industrial vessels. WWF studies pretended to change several parameters, for example the percentage of fins in relation to the body of sharks, worldwide is 5%, but in Costa Rica, the WWF said it was 12.7%. "Perhaps those sharks were different?"

In 2005, WWF came to justify the presence and operation of Taiwan fleet in private docks. For this, the WWF partnered with the College of Biologists, which they trained themselves. In 2006, the Court ordered the closure of those ports. "We had to go to court twice to enforce the law and stop the interference of the panda organization".

Arauz thinks, that the name of the WWF should be interpreted as World Wide Finning, for these practices.

¿Why do we see wrong eating a jaguar and not a shark? Both are wild animals that must be protected. Randall Arauz

Sustainable fishing exists only on a small scale, with an artisanal fisherman with regulations that indicate the season, the fishing areas, and the fishing gear that he can use. The problem is when it comes to industrial fishing, they have the power to impose the rules.

In 2021, we know that shark populations in the world have fallen by 72 percent- There are species in danger of extinction and all this is worsened by the lack of action and control of the Government.

To try to overcome the blockage produced by negative news, we appeal to the power of one. Each person has the strength to generate change with their daily decisions, we do not give up. Sharks are wildlife and when this is understood, the exploitation of this species from Mexico to Chile will be prohibited. To make an analogy, why do we see badly eating a jaguar and not a shark?

Panda Leaks” a book with complaints of the panda from the dark side

The case of WWF in Ecuador is not an isolated case. There is a book and a documentary that accuse them of playing for large interests.

Starting in 2012, with the publication of the book "Schwarzbuch WWF: Dunkle Geschäfte im Zeichen des Panda", the German journalist Wilfried Huismann raised a series of criticisms of the WWF. The written work is called in English: “Panda Leaks, the dark side of the WWF”. When the document started to circulate, the international NGO faced a wave of criticism, to which was added the diffusion of the documentary “WWF - Silence of the Pandas”.

In the book (available in electronic format on Amazon in English since 2014) the practices that are documented by the German journalist are described as "unethical", while brands such as Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Shell, HSBC, Cargill, BP, Alcoa, and Maine Harvest… have benefited from the WWF's “green label”, “while continuing their dirty activities harmful to the environment”. The author emphasizes that "WWF is a faithful servant of the giant corporations of the food and energy sector, to which it gives a progressive and environmental image".

“It is easier to penetrate the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) than the WWF", Raymond Bonner of the New York Times.

In the fisheries chapter is described how the pandas also sanctified the large salmon farms in Chile with a WWF stamp. The same salmon industry that two weeks ago was banned in Argentina. So, it was first a salmon-panda, before a tuna-panda.

It seems that now on, people should change their mental fixation of associating the panda with conservation.


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