Today was one of the hardest days of my professional documentary career. I witnessed evidence of the most horrific arrogance of mankind, a degree of selfish indulgence that I have known about for a long time but have never seen with my own eyes. Today, I saw men crowd around two small sharks and hack them to pieces for what ended up being a pathetically small pile of fibrous tissue that was destined to be sold to someone, somewhere in the world to eatâ€¦as soup.
We started out at 4AM this morning, in order to make it down to the coast in time to film the fisherman heading out to check their longlines. Longlines are essentially, one very long (often a few miles) length of rope that floats at the surface with other long fishing lines hanging down from it, with baited hooks on the end. These fishermen, of whom there are about a dozen in this village called Pomene, go out every morning to check the lines. This story was being covered by me and Lucy, and I was glad for her company and perspective. Her experience with indigenous people, anthropology, history and archeology, bring incredible insights to the intricacy of this problem.
This morning the fisherman left around 6AM, three of them in a very small wooden boat. A few hours later they returned with two, small 3 foot black-tip reef sharks and promptly took them ashore and finned them right in front of us. It was horrifying and all the more so because of the waste. Cutting these little fins for some ignorant person to indulge in a soup that serves no purpose other than to show off their wealth and status (one bowl can go for up to 200 dollars). In fact, shark fins have no flavor; the soup has to be made with chicken stock to make it tasty. I guess what incenses me most though, is what shark finning does to the local fisheries and thus to the communities that rely on them. Sharks are not the monsters that movies and news perpetuate, sharks are the apex predators in the ocean; a graceful, fluid creature that has roamed the seas virtually unchanged for millions of years, testament to their perfection and beauty. As apex predators, they are critical to maintaining the health of the ecosystem in which they live and thus the various fish within those ecosystems, upon which so many people rely for their food and livelihood.
As I witnessed this barbarity I felt both sad for and angry at the people who were doing it. They are destroying their own resources for short term gain, with no thought for the future. I was witnessing a tragedy unfold before my very eyes, some day someone like me will look back and say â€˜why didnâ€™t anyone stop this?â€™, but we canâ€™t, at least not now, the problem is too intricate, too complex. These people are feeding their families and at least part of the solution is to offer them hope for an alternative and that is no easy task.
Indeed, there are groups in the community that are trying to stop it, but it is an uphill struggle. What I found particularly interesting was that none of the shark fisherman, as far as we could tell, are local. That just reinforced this sense of the whole operation being unnatural and terrible, the money from the finning wasnâ€™t going to the local community at all but to a few people and then on to the Chinese middlemen in Maputo. All of the fisherman come from elsewhere and moved to Pomene in the last 5 to 10 years to start fishing. When we asked why they moved here, they gave various answers ranging from â€œthere were too many competing fisherman in the other areasâ€ to â€œthe shark fishing wasnâ€™t as good where they came fromâ€. But we came to find out that many of the more developed towns are chasing the shark fisherman out because the sharks bring in a lot more money as an attraction for divers. So they are going to more remote places to fin the sharks and pass it on to their Chinese contacts in the capitol.
This community could have such riches in tourism and diving if anyone would think ahead and do something and that is where the solutions come in. Tourism is the greatest transfer of wealth from rich to poor in the history of the world, one of the great hopes is that small scale, sustainable tourism, can offer an alternative to these kinds of things; but that will take time. In the end, it was terribly depressing, we all felt powerless in the face of this huge machine that is cranking out shriveled little bits of sin in the form of shark fins. Hopefully, sharing these stories with the world through film will help. But the answer wonâ€™t just come from us, local communities need to work together for solutions, the people buying the soup must stop and governments must act to take this problem seriously and do everything they can to stop it. After the whole experience, we packed up and flew to Vilanculous where we will be spending the next few days looking for Dugongs. The whole day has been physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting and I can barely keep my eyes open.
P.S. Special thanks has to go to Lucy for all the photos, she took them and was kind enough to let me use them