We live in a strange world. About a fortnight ago Captain Paul Watson, the leader of Sea Shepherd, was arrested in Germany for actions taken in Costa Rica that he states occurred ‘over a decade ago’. The event in question is caught on camera and documented in the film Sharkwater that was released in 2006 (past Ecotheme on Sharkwater). In Sharkwater, freelance journalist and biologist Rob Steward is asked to join Paul Watson as he sails to Costa Rica on invitation from the government who have requested Sea Shepherd’s assistance to help stop illegal fishing in the area. On route, Watson and his crew spot a boat illegally trailing long lines, and proceed to arrest them, with radio confirmation from the coast guard. As they lead the boat in to port, however, a gunboat is dispatched from Costa Rica to arrest the Sea Shepherd. Whilst technically under arrest in the Costa Rican port, Rob Stewart and his film crew uncover a billion dollar shark finning industry, powerful enough to be pulling strings within the Costa Rican government. Towards the end of the documentary, Captain Watson decides to make a run for it and the crew of Sea Shepherd escape into international waters.
Now, six years after Sharkwater was released, Paul Watson has been arrested in Germany on charges that Interpol dropped on the grounds that they were politically unsound. Why Germany has decided to ignore Interpol’s ruling is unclear, but Paul Watson is currently on bail and expecting to be extradited to Costa Rica, where Sea Shepherd fear his life would be in danger. The Taiwanese shark fin mafia has a bounty of $20,000 on Watson’s head – and Sea Shepherd fear that even in jail in Costa Rica, Paul Watson would not be safe. All this for a man who protects sharks…
Sea Shepherd and Paul Watson also remark on the ‘coincidence’ that the new arrest warrant from Costa Rica was issued in October of 2011, around the same time the ICR* filled a suit against Sea Shepherd – connected to Sea Shepherd’s campaign to stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. Proceedings are also still underway in the UK against Sea Shepherd for damage done to the nets of tuna company ‘Fish and Fish’ in an operation to save endangered tuna (see previous Ecotheme). As Watson stated from prison: ‘our efforts to protect life in our oceans have made us some very powerful enemies‘.
The industries that pillage of the sea are certainly very powerful. In Sharkwater, Stewart states that the billion-dollar shark finning industry he uncovers is second only to the drugs trade. Likewise, The End of the Line shows quite how subversively lucrative the tuna industry is – also revealing the shocking fact that one of every two fish consumed come from illegal fishing. The seas need policing, and governments regularly state that the problem with creating marine protected areas is enforcement – policing waters is costly – yet they do little or nothing to halt the supplies of illegal, endangered, and sometimes toxic, marine products flooding into their boarders. We need people like Paul Watson and his crew who are willing to devote their lives to protecting ocean life. He should not be criminalised for policing the seas; he should have not only our support but also the support of our governments.
*Institute for Cetacean Research