Monday, November 20, 2006

Could a few "good pirates" help save the oceans?

Today, the Conservation Law Foundation and World Wildlife Fund-Canada will release a report recommending that marine reserves be created in about 20 percent of the ocean from Cape Cod to Eastern Canada's Scotian Shelf, and extending 10 to 200 miles from shore. The protected areas would probably include some of New England's most productive fishing areas .

A recent article in Science warns that the world will run out of seafood by 2048 if steep declines in marine species continue at current rates. The authors base their conclusion on a four-year study of catch data and their effects on fisheries stock. While experts and special interests debate the study's assumptions and methodologies, it is clear that the overall health of the world's oceans is in serious decline. Various national and international commissions have reached this conclusion including the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. They have also recommended policies to address the crisis. Still the situation has not improved. Another approach to addressing the crisis was offered by Greenpeace Foundation co-founder Paul Watson in 1998. He suggested that pirates be hired and dispatched to enforce the existing international policies designed to protect the oceans. (GW)

Neptune's Manifesto: how a few good pirates can save the ocean

by Captain
Paul Watson
CoEvolution Quarterly
Fall 1998

Beginning in the 1600s, the Grand Banks was the great fishing commons of the Atlantic. Now it is a commons emerging from chaos. Just five years ago, there was no sincerity and no trust between fishers. Fish and fishers were deep down on their luck. Like most of the high seas, the Grand Banks was a commons plagued by cheaters and outlaws, lax monitoring, and almost no enforcement. Enter Captain Paul Watson, the Lone Ranger of the open seas, whose monkey-wrenching and non-violent protests have elevated oceanic commons after oceanic commons into international consciousness, shaming ineffectual leaders and pushing the process of a robust commons forward. Here is Paul's proposal for a non-governmental, unbiased navy to keep the commons honest. (Peter Warshall)

The oceans of the world desperately need some aggressive, committed, passionate, determined pirates -- eco-pirates of conscience to stop the ongoing destructive pillaging by the pirates of profit and greed.

The pirates of greed operate on the high seas with impunity, so why not build a navy of the former -- an eco-force of environmental privateers. beholden to no corporate interests or state authority?

It was not the British or Spanish Navy that put an end to piracy on the Spanish Main in the seventeenth century. God knows, both navies spent considerable energies and resources in pursuit of that goal, but both failed miserably. Piracy was instead vanquished by an individual -- a pirate, Captain Henry Morgan, in fact. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the governorship of Jamaica.

Individuals and non-governmental organizations can triumph where state governments fail because bureaucracy can be dispensed with and expediency can be deployed. Whereas the bureaucratic state is shackled into non-action by the vested interests and conflicting political ambitions of its citizens, a non-governmental organization is fueled by the common interests and passionate desires of its members. A state must include all interests, many of which are in conflict. A non-governmental organization moves ahead by a common interest and seeks a common goal.

If the common goal is also one that nations agree with in principle, if not in practice, then an NGO that reflects this common concern should be at least tolerated, if not actively supported by some nation-states.

There were many in the British and Spanish Empires who profited directly and indirectly from piracy, including many in positions of influence. The advocates in government wishing to end piracy had to wade through the muck of political and corporate corruption, special interests, diplomatic dilemmas, conflicting ambitions, and just plain old bureaucratic red tape.

Captain Morgan, on the other hand, concerned only with his own ambitions, simply got on with the job, and most effectively.

Post-modern Piracy

Today, another form of piracy is practiced on the high seas. The ever-escalating demand for resources is pillaging the planet's oceans.

And because this greater part of the Earth's surface is free of state authority, there is no structure, and no political or policing body that is in a position to defend these resources from high-seas piracy. The world's oceans are an open frontier, with everything up for grabs for those who possess the biggest and best technologies to extract fish, seals, whales, minerals, oil, krill, plankton, or energy. The same holds true for those who view the seas as a dump site for radioactive waste, sewage, toxins, or discarded plastic.

On the high seas, might makes right. It is the only law that exists in practical fact, whereas most international laws exist only in theory. Laws without enforcement are not worth the paper they are written upon. Captain Jacques Cousteau once told me that he believed that the navies of the world should stop playing war games with each other and get down to the real business of protecting the oceans from the greed of humanity.

Of course, navies are merely the tools of nation-states and it is not in the real-politik interest of any nation-state to protect the common heritage for the good of the commons. In the long term, of course, it makes perfect sense, but politics has not been a discipline to concern itself with long-range objectives.

High Sea Frontier Commons

We are stuck with a dilemma. The oceans are being plundered, yet the status quo of international law allows nation-states to choose to disregard any law, even if they have agreed to abide by it.

At present, what we know as international law is merely a collection of agreements by certain nation-states, all of which have no binding force to back up their implementation.

The drafting of the laws is undertaken only by those who are deemed to have "standing" to do so -- i.e., representatives of nation-states.

Monitoring of ecological balance, of fish stock or whale populations, is underfunded, biased, or simply ignored for the political convenience of industry or agriculture.

The government of Canada in the early eighties was very much aware of the possibility of the collapse of the northern cod fishery off Newfoundland. Action was continually delayed until the fishery crashed, at which point Canadian Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin launched a public relations ploy that blamed the whole mess on the Spanish, to distract from the incompetence of his own government.

Canada still has refused to learn from its mistakes. This is illustrated by the fact that salmon populations continue to decline off the West Coast under pressure from the large fishing companies and unions that deny the fragility of the species and the ecosystem.

Crimes against ecology are also crimes against humanity. These crimes have been consistently committed by the same nation-states that possess the standing to participate in the formulation of treaties and laws. None of these states will admit to wrongdoing -- or if they do, they will certainly not agree to be penalized for their transgressions.

Just a quick trip through a short list of the crimes of some of these nation-states reveals the awesome extent of lawlessness on the world's oceans: Iraq's gross ecological crime of dumping millions of tons of oil into the Persian Gulf; the former Soviet Union's crime of dumping nuclear reactors into the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans; Canada's illegal whaling and incompetent management of both Atlantic and Pacific fisheries; Mexico's slaughter of dolphins and the endorsement of this slaughter by the United States in the interest of trade; Norway's and Japan's blatant violations of the global moratorium on commercial whaling; the drift-netting of the oceans by Taiwan, Korea and Japan, with monstrously long nets; uncontrolled worldwide poaching of marine wildlife; cyanide poisoning of tropical reefs; the operation of unsafe oil tanker traffic by all nations; the unrelenting destruction of wetlands and estuaries.

The litany of threats to the environment is endless and ongoing. The real victims, the generations yet unborn, have no voice to protest and no standing to contest these crimes.

Yet, we have laws to protect the environment. Don't we? Japan and Norway are both members of the International Whaling Commission, and between them they have slaughtered some 18,000 whales since the IWC implemented a global moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986.

We have international conventions like the 1973 convention on vessel-dumping at sea and the 1973 convention for the prevention of pollution by ships, both of which are essentially unenforceable.

Article 192 of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea provides: "States have the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment."

These are all words, without adequate measures for enforcement.

One possibility for enforcement is the enactment of national legislation that would impose trade embargoes on offending nations. For example, under regulations of the US Department of Commerce, measures can be taken to sanction nations that do not adhere to the rulings of the International Whaling Commission. Despite this being the law, President Clinton has consistently chosen to ignore the law and has substituted `letters of protest' to offending whaling nations like Norway and Japan. His reasoning is that the issue is not worth upsetting trade relations over. As a result, despite the law, both nations have annually raised their illegal quotas without recriminations from any nation.

Both the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as international treaties render domestic legislation like the US Endangered Species Act subordinate. International trade agreements negate domestic conservation legislation. For this reason, Mexico successfully sued the US under GATT for barring trade in tuna caught by the method of "fishing on porpoise." This in turn forced the US to overturn legislation protecting dolphins from tuna nets.

What all this means is that the future looks bleak for conservation because it will always be forced to take a back seat to the interest of free trade.

Oceanic Range Wars

Of course, as resources are depleted, warfare will become the natural extension of diplomatic discussions. We saw this surface in 1973 with the British and Icelandic cod war when Iceland unilaterally extended its territorial limit to fifty miles. This was the first step toward an international agreement creating the globally recognized 200-mile limit, a measure that was successful because it appealed to the territorial ambitions of all the participating states.

Still, this was not enough. In 1995 Canada fired on the Spanish trawler Estai outside the 200-mile limit to underscore its desire to protect fish that it considered its own regardless of whether said fish might travel across an imaginary line in the water in the course of their migrations. In turn, Spain charged the Canadian Fisheries Minister with piracy, but, like everything else on the high seas, the charges did nothing. The incident furthered the Minister's political ambitions in Canada. Spain carried on fishing as Canada congratulated itself for displaying some rare machismo.

It is interesting to note that it was Canada that arrested me in 1993 for chasing the Cuban fishing fleet off the Tail of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. This was also outside of Canada's 200-mile limit. Nonetheless, as a Canadian citizen, I was put on trial on three counts of felony mischief. Although I did not damage any property or injure any person, Canada attempted to impose two life sentences plus ten years as punishment for having demanded that the Cubans leave the area.

What I had done was no different than what Canada did to the Spanish two years later, except that I did not use force. My trial was held shortly after the Spanish incident, and when my attorney attempted to compare my actions to those of Canada, the judge ruled that it was improper to compare one criminal action to another criminal action as a precedent. In his summation, the Crown Prosecutor informed the jury that "a message must be sent that interference by citizens with over-fishing must not be tolerated."

Sheriff without a Badge

In other words, it was not my actions that were objectionable, but the fact that the actions were not taken by a representative of the State. Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin was lauded as a hero for doing what I had done -- after charging me with the commission of a crime when I did the same thing.

The jury trial did give me the opportunity to defend myself utilizing the United Nations World Charter for Nature.

Specifically, I pleaded that I had acted in accordance with Principle 21 Section (e) of the Charter, which reads:

"States, and, to the extent they are able, other public authorities, international organizations, individuals, groups and corporations shall:

"...(e) Safeguard and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction."

Canada sent a legal expert to my trial to argue that although Canada had indeed signed the World Charter for Nature, the Charter was not to be considered as a defense for actions under Canadian law. My lawyer successfully argued that if Canada signed the Charter, then Canada agreed with the Charter.

Canada informed me that I was responsible for some thirty-five million dollars in lost revenue to the Cubans. All I could see was the vast number of fish this represented and considered it a victory.

I have been operating under the World Charter's stipulation for many years. The same spirit that brought it into being compelled me to set up the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society -- not as a protest organization but as an enforcement organization to uphold international laws and treaties.

I began this endeavor in 1977, five years before the Charter came into existence, but it was in anticipation of the need for the Charter that I did so. In 1982, the Charter simply gave us some legal authority to act.

I confess to being a pirate. Since 1979, we have sunk nine outlaw whaling ships and have rammed numerous illegal drift netters and tuna boats. In doing so, we are complying with the law, as defined by the UN General Assembly in 1982: States, and, to the extent that they are able, other public authorities, international organizations, individuals, groups and corporations shall safeguard and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Copyright 1998 Point Foundation. Click here to read the entire article.


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