Sharks and the Greenwashing Phenomenon

Paul Friese talks about Sharks and the Greenwashing Phenomenon

There are still major issues that divide us as people.  Issues that categorize us into different groups, that separate us into different races rather than uniting us as one human race.

However, there are other pressing issues that need all of our awareness and our attention – now.  One of these global issues, is the world’s attitude towards sharks.

Sharks are being over-fished, mostly for their fins. Is this a cultural issue, where we must respect the cultures that have a tradition of shark-fins as part of their lifestyle?  Or is this an educational issue, where we must present the argument, that sharks are essential to the well-being of the planet, because of the balance they bring to the ecosystems of the oceans, and so, the world.


Meet the man saving marine life, one shark at a time: Paul Friese

Paul Friese is the founder of Bali Sharks.  He wanted to protect the area’s sharks after witnessing what they are being subjected to.

Bali Sharks Rescue Centre, a franchise of Bali Solusi, has been running for the past 6 years and is located in Serangan, a 30-minute drive from Nusa Dua.


What inspired you to found the Bali Sharks Rescue Centre?

Growing up on the beach in Hawaii we are taught a lot of respect for our “Aina” land which includes fisheries.

I actually got a condo here 8 years ago and I thought now is a chance to do something different. I planned on setting up a shark cage business since it’s successful in Hawaii, so I rented my place and moved to Bali.

I found a massive underwater shelf off of Nusa Dua, and figured there’d be sharks there. Two weeks later, we had sharks. But on April 16th 2011, after leaving a gutted Tuna on a buoy, we received an early morning call that a fisherman had killed a tiger-shark at the location. Being from Hawaii, Tigers are a favourite shark of mine. I was upset at its demise. I realized that the fisherman was just doing his work and the sustainable fishing problem began eating away at me.

I was sick of seeing discarded fish by-catch (for example: baby sharks) in trash cans after surf sessions. Growing up on the beach in Hawaii we are taught a lot of respect for our “Aina” land which includes fisheries. From that point onward, I decided to find solutions to help sharks and local fishing villages along the shoreline.

Every day, I passed the Dolphin Lodge by boat which contains captive dolphins (I abhor this). I realised that a similar floating area creates a safe haven to protect sharks if fishermen can separate their live by-catch. Sure enough a litter of 10 Black Tip Reef Pups got stuck in a Nusa Dua seaweed farm. The farmer asked for 1.5 million rupiah which is about US$150. I’m sitting there trying to figure out if it’s $150 for one shark or for the entire litter and challenged him: If he could bring them to me alive I’d give him $150. He said he would have taken them to the fish market for the same price. The seaweed farmer was Balinese (Hindu) and actually thanked us for the peaceful alternative since it meant not having to kill a sentient being.

However, economically it did show the extent of their desperation and poverty. The shark cage business model had done a “180” into a conservation model and that’s when things got even stranger. The more I looked into shark conservation the bigger a disappointment it became. But once this litter of sharks were rescued they were so cute, playful, and fun, I was hooked. That was it, I told myself “if there’s a chance of saving one, I will try my best to do so…”

Could you elaborate?

“Some of these groups make over 100 million USD per year and are not even near the ocean.”

That’s pretty much how it happened, founded by a situational accident. But I was also surprised to see no other NGOs had an actual shark rescue programme yet hundreds were exploiting “the finning trend” to cash in. Some of these groups make over 100 million USD per year and are not even near the ocean. They are based near Washington DC legislating for all these “conservation funds” annually.

There are many ways on paper to save sharks through awareness or “greenwashing” but to actually rescue and get them back into circulation is non-existent. Aquarium trade, restaurant tanks, out of fish markets, intercepting from fishermen, each rescue is different but if you have a rescue centre it’s a viable start. It’s a place to educate fishermen and it was a great opportunity for NGOs to jump in and get involved. However, there were disagreements. Shark Guardian thought that my pens are too small and that I shouldn’t touch sharks. This led to them complaining to other groups, such as the dive centres in Indonesia and my shark release partners in the Gili Islands. Meanwhile, they were illegally selling shirts and dive packages out here.

Sea Shepherd then voiced their opinion, stating that I was keeping the sharks captive, in a similar way to SeaWorld and that I’m another reason for fishermen to catch more sharks. Although Sea Shepherd is known for their large scale actions against illegal fishing, whaling, and seal hunting, they don’t make a difference for small time fishermen.

They sell hoodies for $80 bucks which could rescue a litter of 5 sharks out of the marketplace. So I do feel some animosity towards these business organisations which claim to be shark conservationists. But not all of them are like this, I do commend people such as Dr. Sylvia Earle at Mission Blue. Greenpeace was a bit hesitant at first but made the effort to come and learn about what was happening here in Bali.

They converted our evidence and theories to trace the tuna slavery agents to Thailand and were the first to document the “mothership” theory here in Indonesian waters.

You mentioned that this is the first centre of this kind in the world?

Yes, it is. Maybe there are a few now, but 6 years ago, this was the only one of its kind.

There are a few research facilities that contain sharks but none of them are actively getting out there to rescue them. Karimun Jawa and Banyuwangi both have eco-tourism programmes protecting young blacktips which sounds exciting. Those sharks would have been dead otherwise.


People justify the killing of sharks by saying that they are dangerous, what is your response to that?

“The media greatly exaggerates the amount of shark attacks.”

That theory is probably 50 years old. Fear of the unknown. Back in the day people didn’t know enough about them. We have definitely over-fished them and more and more people are abusing the ocean. The media greatly exaggerates the amount of shark attacks. There are approximately 8 deaths per year but the Reunion Island and Australia count for a great percentage of these, and actually created the shark imbalances. These are usually provoked attacks, such as a spear-fisherman with his catch on his belt or perhaps they were surfing in a none-swim zone due to sharks.


“Sharks clean the seas, they eat all the dead whales and other remaining creatures.”

We need them to keep the balance in the reef’s ecosystem. Sharks clean the seas, they eat all the dead whales and other remaining creatures. Without them there would be too much bacteria and more carcasses floating up to the beaches. If all the sharks are eliminated, the entire ecosystem will collapse so they need to resolve their fishery balance first. The Reunion attacks mirror the business life-cycle of Reunimer which is their large fish processing plant located right at their ocean port. This combined with slaughterhouses up the rivers and Reunimer’s waste disposal create the optimal man-made conditions for bull sharks. The sharks are competitive and have spread horizontally through the shallows which disrupts their natural behavior of a deeper water vertical pecking order.


How many sharks have you rescued so far?

“We have saved and released 246 sharks in 6 years.”

We have saved and released 246 sharks in 6 years. It’s nothing to brag about but it’s the best I could do on my own. For each shark saved, I must have seen 10,000 dead if not more when counting fins. This is why I wonder, where are the environmental groups such as WWF, RARE, WCS, WildAid, Sea Shepherd, Conservation International? This model is a winner for everyone involved: the ocean, the fishermen, sharks, tourist, scientists, the economy. It’s a model that can be replicated geographically and to other species.

Take the Cove Guardian and Whale War programmes for instance. They claim it saves 30,000 whales but the Captain pretends to get shot for his reality TV show, when you break it down does it save anything? It actually saves a ton of money. There revenue from 2008 increased from $4.5 million to over $15 million in 2012. I am quite certain that the network contract revenues get privatised into production companies so those might not be in there either.

Japanese Lifeguards, Pro Surfers, their Paddling teams supported a plan to divert the dolphins out and around the Taiji Cove and Sea Shepherd said, “we will not jeopardise our Cove Guardian campaign.” The Dolphin Project’s excuse was that they wouldn’t be able to get in equipment though customs not aware of the insiders. So at the end of the year it is all about money and fame.

But ask yourself if you would herd dolphins around the cove if it was earning you millions a year to exploit their tragedy?

These NGOs will all publicly claim that they got hammerheads on the endangered species list. There are thousands of people that signed petitions and then it gets voted by
conservation councils. There are lobbyists in all these countries as well as smaller NGOs that approached the lobbyists in the first place. Meanwhile every day hundreds of
hammerheads are killed here in Indonesia and places like Costa Rica despite the endangered lists. There is a horrible disconnection from these NGO reports and what is actually happening out there. During the World Ocean Summit 2017 earlier in Bali this year two Whale Sharks were killed in Indonesia waters which is illegal.


The high level of mercury in fish is becoming a huge issue. What are your views on this in relation to sharks?

Consumers may not be aware of this but shark meat is commonly used in fast food products such as fish burgers and fish-n- chips, so that’s where the mercury comes in.

Mercury accumulates in bodies and you can’t get rid of it. Sharks have some of the highest concentration of mercury among fish. Fish get more and more tainted as the pollution increases. I have results of sharks from local markets testing over 3.5 PPM – parts per million. While the safe threshold suggested by the World Health Organisation is 0.5 PPM. Squalene, shark liver oil is used for supplements and in beauty products such as lipstick, conditioners, lotions, and creams. Mislabeling in fishing is a massive problem as it is not transparent. If you go to your local pub and ask where is your fish sourced from, they most likely won’t be able to tell you let alone know what fish is used for Fish-n- Chips.

They call it “flake” in Australia, “Dogfish” in the UK, which is actually the name of a shark. It makes no economic sense for a chef to use premium fish since shark meat’s consistency is great for deep frying and it is cheap. It’s used in a lot of fish cake products here in Asia, even meatballs for soups.


Have you ever seen anything suspicious being carried out around here?

I’m ready to do a documentary to expose what the public is subjected to. There is a serious IUU battle going on out there. The Benoa Harbour just down the road is a microcosm of it all as in 2013 the Tuna Slavery was documented. Indonesia went from #1 shark exporting to much lower on the list and Singapore became listed as number one.

This is when I thought about the “Mothership Theory”.

Thanks to Greenpeace for having my back otherwise people would have thought nothing of it.

The Indonesian Government, specifically President Joko Widodo and his Ministry of Fisheries appointee, Ibu Susi, have done an incredible job setting the standards for all these activities. Over 300 IUU boats have been destroyed. Ibu Susi’s first IUU boat bust was full of 30 people all carrying counterfeit Indonesian Passports. Most of them couldn’t even speak Bahasa Indonesia; they were Malay, Pinoys, Vietnam, Sri Lankan, etc. That’s when the slavery really came to the forefront with the news agencies and the United Nations got involved.


Have you tried setting up a petition?

There was the Garuda petition in 2013. The key to that was putting Garuda Airlines’s public relations’ email as the recipient. After the weekend they had thousands of emails so they would have to comply to end the emails. Oddly WWF then put Garuda’s President on their board and thanked them for putting an embargo on shark fin cargo. Garuda most likely gave WWF some type of compensation to publicly announce and thank Garuda for stopping the export of shark fins. I wondered why they didn’t approach us about this issue and that’s when Greenpeace called me for the first time.

Two weeks after WWF’s announcement, Greenpeace had called Garuda pretending to have two pallets of shark fins to ship. Garuda accepted this. When asked about the
headlines, they were told that everything was still running the way it had been before and they would still ship. WWF and corporate Garuda came up with the “greenwashing” public relations’ stunt.

WWF had had a similar CSR blunder before due to a deforestation incident but they asked us to give them two weeks more before Garuda would officially announce it. I figured that they needed to get rid of the inventory.

Two weeks later, across the channel here, a Sanur dive centre, which is also a sport fishing centre got caught with 80 dead sharks in Garuda shipment boxes which the airline didn’t come to pick up. Divers saw this and took pictures which were forwarded to PADI, Project Aware and Shark Guardian to no avail. The local mafia then visited the rescue centre and made some serious threats, and the staff quit. Furthermore, the police came, and filed a police report against me for cyber crime and blasphemy.

Unfortunately for them the pictures were adequate proof and they couldn’t charge me for anything but defended the dive centre claiming that it’s not illegal to kill sharks, to which I replied, “I never said it was.”

Project Aware and Shark Guardian (the founder is employed by PADI) had covered up for the dive centre. A few months later PADI awarded the dive centre for a 25 year old anniversary and their Shark NGO, Project Aware awarded Shark Guardian a $5,000 grant.

Shortly afterwards, Singapore-based photographer Michael Awe did a similar petition which resulted in Singapore Airlines banning shark fin cargo as well. Singapore is the world’s second largest fin soup consumer per capita and has always been a top importer and exporter. According to Sea Shepherd, this saves annually 30 million sharks based on their 100 million sharks killed per year rhetoric. It doesn’t save sharks, but it does throw a monkey wrench into the distribution channels and backs up inventory making them spend money on new shipping methods like dry bulk surface, etc.



If there is one major message about the work you do, what is it?

People like to save dolphins, turtles, even mammal stranding but neglect sharks. Sadly NGOs earn millions a year and use sharks without really achieving results or creating solutions. So my current message is obviously that we need sharks in the ocean and that there are viable solutions.

We’ve restored marine ecosystems by putting sharks in delicate areas that need balance again such as the Gilis. We have released 62 sharks there and now the whole ecosystem is blooming. The reef’s come back as well as the herbivore fish. How come these well-funded groups that have been around for over 20 years, can’t try something similar? So I’m challenging them to stop talking and to start solving.


It is frustrating to see that most charity organisations are fueled by ego and money?

It’s difficult because often celebrities are needed to shine a light on current issues.

It is just one big popularity contest. Celebrities become the focus of organisations and they
become spokespersons. “Greenwashing” is a convenient way of becoming endearing in the public eye, when the reality is that the celebrities are donating a large amount of money that ends up being spent on running the organisation, as opposed to actually helping the animals. The NGOs are all competing with each other at this point, it’s obviously become a competition: Who has the biggest celebrity or the biggest sponsor? In a way it’s comical to watch, but then again it disrespects honest donors entrusting NGOs to solve problems as promised. It is conservation fraud.


Could you please shine a light on the Hong Kong shark fin soup connection?

“Unfortunately, Hong Kong is the number one consumer, closely followed by Singapore.”

It all goes back to the Ming dynasty. China will argue that it’s a cultural thing, but it’s an ego thing. It’s a status thing. There was the big push 10 -15 years ago when they really began the mass finning, dumping the rest of the sharks’ bodies into the ocean. That’s the cheap meat.

They waste 95% of the poor animal. It is totally unsustainable and the people that are fishing are enslaved. It is completely run by mafia. Unfortunately, Hong Kong is the number one consumer, closely followed by Singapore. The majority of the fins are from Indonesia. Restaurants, traders, distributors are all after the endangered non-edible whale hark fins as status symbols to hang in their shops for display only. The only thing it symbolizes is the barbaric slicing and killing of a very important key to the survival of our oceans. You can’t greenwash everything when sharks and animals suffer horrendously.
Economically, the Hong Kong connection drives the world’s supply and demand for shark fin.

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