2011 Shark Alliance Meeting
2011 Annual Shark Alliance Meeting
written by Hannes Van Eynde
April 10-11 2011
Some weeks ago, Michael Scholl had sent all YEP’s an email about participating in the Shark Alliance Meeting in Brussels, Belgium. As I am from Belgium, the subject really interested me and I had Easter holidays during the meeting, I had no reason not to reply that I would love to join him. And that’s how it all began. At first my reaction was the same like any other average European: Sharks? Here? *scratching the head* I knew there were sharks in Europe, but as I started reading about it, it struck me that we have, or should have, so much shark species in our European seas. The fact that we don’t see any in the Mediterranean for example, strongly indicates that there definitely is a problem. And it’s bigger than we can imagine. For Europe, and in particular Spain and Portugal, is responsible for one quarter of the worldwide amount of sharks caught every year.
Monday morning, 9 a.m.: Time to head towards Brussels by train. Although it is my own capital, I’m least familiar with it… After some fumbling with a print from google.maps, I finally reached the right Hostel. I checked in, put my luggage in a locker and got myself a detailed map of the city, just in case!
The Shark Alliance Meeting only started at 12.30 p.m. so I still had some time to meet up with Michael first. Finally I met the man behind all our recent email traffic. It felt kind of pleasing to meet someone of the Mike Horn Team again after almost two years. However, I didn’t really know what to expect of the SA Meeting. Comforting news though: Michael didn’t either. He kind of expected me to be his guide in Brussels… But, Bummer! I only knew as much, if not less, of the city as the city map application on his Iphone did.
At noon, we then got back to the Jacques Brel Youth Hostel to meet up with the other participants in the meeting. Up until now, I expected a bunch of dull scientists crammed into some dark, foggy conference room. In reality, however, we met a cheerful crowd, greeting and kissing each other as if they hadn’t seen each other in a long time. So far for my prejudices… Having dealt with enough moments in my life of not knowing anyone when going somewhere, there was only one option: Mix into the crowd and start introducing yourself, meeting and talking to new people. And let that be my personal advice if you ever go to a meeting or any other event with interesting people: Just start talking to people. Nothing to lose, but a whole lot of knowledge and contacts to gain.
After introducing some of the Shark Alliance board members, we looked into the meeting’s agenda and then it was time for the first of many breaks to come. Again a chance to meet and talk to new people. All of these people from different organization from around the world already had some, or lot’s of, experience doing what they do. So for me, it was the perfect opportunity to learn and hear about things going on in the real world in terms of conservation and protection of species, and in particular sharks. When the meeting continued, we first constructed one the ‘famous SA Meeting time lines’. On which Post-It notes in different colours, indicated important milestones and goals reached in the recent history of the Shark Alliance, after they were founded in 2006. E.g. the European Commission adopting the Community Plan of Action for the Conservation of Sharks in 2009. A lot has been achieved by SA, but the work is far from done. Although finning has been banned in European waters since 2003, we still have one the weakest finning regulations in the world. The current law is full of loopholes, which still allow finning to be implemented, although illegal, by European fisheries without any evidence. Therefore, the Alliance is now intensively lobbying within the European Parliament for the acceptance of what they call “Fins naturally attached, without exceptions!” This means that all sharks caught, should be landed in port with its fins still attached. Whereas fishing fleets can now cut the fins at sea and store fish and fins separately. This allows fisheries for example, to land more valuable fins of more protected sharks, of which the carcass is dumped at sea, together with carcasses of unprotected shark species with less valuable fins, of which they also got rid at sea. The policy is being supported already by important countries like the UK and France, but is heavily opposed by economically benefitting nations as Spain and Portugal. Therefore the “Fins naturally attached, without exceptions” is a must for European policy in order to protect European sharks.
Not only did I learn a lot about the current and future plans for the protection of sharks in Europe, but for me the meeting was also a huge revelation to understanding the importance and the necessity of NGO’s, like Shark Alliance. First of all, I finally learnt something about how European politics work. Because that is something few European citizens know. However contradictory that is, because the EU policies have more influence on our daily life then we might expect. In this European law-making process, NGO’s have the vital role of providing knowledge to those who are responsible for voting the proposals. We can’t expect any Member of European Parliament to know everything about every subject. But actually that is the only way for policy makers to chose and act in the right way. So that’s where NGO’s come in, to provide these MEP’s, like they’re called, with scientific evidence, righteous arguments and a sign that their constituents care about the subject they’ll be voting on next week. I always wondered what the use was of these hundreds of petitions, that people make you sign on the street. Well, If you read the petition and you think: “Hmm.. they do have a good point.” Then make the little effort and SIGN IT! Because these people will make sure, that petition falls into the right hands where it can and will make a difference in changing this world a little for the good. On the meeting they visualized the effect of last year’s petition during the European Shark Week (ESW) on MEP’s signing a written declaration concerning the strengthening of European finning regulations, and the it was astonishing… Changes can be made by individuals who care!
After a very interesting day, we ended the formal part with a real ‘Shark cocktail’. Whether you choose the strong “Hammerhead Martini” or the even stronger “Lemon Shark Vodka”, they both were the harbingers of a fun, more informal evening activity! At a bar named ‘Coco’, we met again later that evening for sociable chat together with drinks and snacks. The later it got, the more wrong I seemed to be with my prejudices of a bunch of dull scientists…
Tuesday morning, 7 a.m.: The good thing about starting with cocktails at 6 p.m. is, parties don’t last that long and you don’t really have a problem getting out of bed early for another day of the Shark Alliance Meeting. Although a good espresso is always welcome!
Whereas the first day was more informative, we now started with the interactive part of the meeting. Before noon, we split up into two discussion groups: one, including Michael, to talk about the use of social media to maximize the amount of people that sign the petition during the ESW 2011. And another one, that I joined, to think of some the materials that should be provided by the SA to all organizations in order to host their own ESW event. This perhaps was the least interesting part of the entire meeting. There was one thing from our discussion, however, that was really worth remembering and sharing with other people: If you ever have to invent and organize an event, whether it’s for raising awareness, funds or just acting in another way, always start digging up useful things about yourself. E.g. What are my talents, hobbies, sports I do? Who do I know, and where do I know them from? And what can I do with all of this in terms of an event? You’ll be surprised how far you can get, just working with that.
As the meeting almost came to an end after two other discussions about divers and events, while in our mind we were already having a drink, there was one last session in the meeting: We had a chance to learn more from experienced people about how to meet up with an MEP, a permanent representative or even a local member of your administration. Because having good contacts with these people is key to reaching our goal. No matter the subject, politics is still a game played best by politicians. The only thing we can do, is open their mind and heart, widen their view, by telling them the other side of the story. The one that’s not about money, profits and greed… But about passion, love, respect AND facts. Because it is our moral duty, as a human being with mind and soul, as someone who does care, as a YEP, to sign those petitions, to show the world we care, to stand up and get involved, to start ACTING!
Hannes Van Eynde
Malaysia Expedition Selection Camp Young Explorer
Shark Alliance Meeting 2011
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