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An Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Rob Stewart – Part Two

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On October 25th, Blogcritics published the first half of an interview with Rob Stewart, the director of the sensational documentary Sharkwater.

To recap briefly, Rob Stewart is a photographer and biologist who set out to make a movie that would change public misconceptions about sharks. This turned into a four year project that saw him team up with activist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to expose a black market trade in shark fins, the economic grasp of which is second only to that of the drug trade.

Here is the second half of my conversation with Rob Stewart.

When I was watching this film, the first thing that popped into my head was that this should be required viewing in schools. I saw on your website that you have teaching aids available. Are there any plans to distribute the film to schools?

Actually yeah, we're trying to get it into the curriculum for next year.

That's fantastic!

Yeah it helps right after a release while there is still a buzz.

Have you heard from any Canadian school boards?

Yes, as far as I know, Canada is on board. You know we're trying to make ecology cool and fun.

I've been doing a bit of research and it didn't take me long to find a list of restaurants in the Toronto area and here in Hamilton that serve shark fin soup. Since the release of your film, have any organizations been approaching restaurants or politicians?

In New York, after the release, people got really excited and there was an "End Shark Fin Soup in New York" campaign that I think is still going on. Are you in Canada?

Yes, I live in Hamilton (one hour west of Toronto).

In Toronto I think there were some protests and pickets of restaurants and I think some restaurants have taken it off their menu. I was just on a panel in Miami with Bo Derek and at the time U.S. customs had just seized five suitcases of fins, some $60,000 in fins from Equator and it was because the woman transporting them didn't declare it. Which is all they can charge her with.

Because there's no actual ban on importing fins?

Right, she just didn't declare it.

In Canada too, we have no regulations about importing shark fins though we have regulations on finning.

Right, which is stupid! What is the difference between banning the practice and allowing importation from that same practice?

Sadly sometimes Canada has a pretty poor record of protecting endangered species. I believe we're one of the few countries that won't ban either bottom trawling or dredging?

Right! I watched this film with the environment minister (of Canada). I sat in the Varsity theater with John Baird and he was all fired up and wanted to get involved. But of course, nothing has happened! They've refused to put two species of sharks we've been pushing to get on the endangered list, even though his office got 3,500 e-mails in one day!

What two species are those?

The Porbeagle shark and the Spiny Dogfish. The Porbeagle is an older relative of the White and the government is refusing to put them on the list because they have fisheries for them. The Spiny Dogfish is exported to the UK as a main form of fish and chips. It keeps getting re-classified as Rock Salmon to get around the problem and so people don't know what they're eating.

I looked around the Sharkwater website as well as savingsharks.com and I noticed that at the top of the list of things we can do to help sharks is "snorkel and dive with sharks". So you endorse eco-tourism of sharks?

Rob Stewart Diving with Sharks

Yes, absolutely. I think it has saved many populations of sharks around the world.

What about criticism that it may do more harm than good? I'm a diver myself and at the very top of my list of things I must do before I die is to cage dive to see a Great White up close. But I've heard criticism that baiting and luring Whites to cages is getting them used to associating the sound of boat engines and people with food.

There's a bit of danger with it, but I think that if it's done properly it's quite safe. Look, if we were overfishing sharks by five or ten percent over the mark, then I would say okay, there's some validity to eco-tourism concerns. But when we're 90% over the mark, then I say anything that can be done to protect these animals must be done! The only way we're going to convince people that sharks are worth saving is by getting people to know them. Because the only people who are afraid of sharks are those who've never seen one.

So I'm relatively guilt free in wanting to cage dive?

Absolutely go! Do it. You can go in Guadelupe and San Diego. I know there have been some issues in South Africa where some operators have put out cages within a mile of where people swim so that yes, whenever they hear a boat engine they come around and investigate. But I think that as long as it's done properly then it can be safe. So you can go ahead and enjoy these animals guilt free.

My final question to you is this: is there hope? If they are slow to reproduce and we're taking them at such an alarming rate, is there hope? Can we save sharks?

Yes I think there's hope. The situation is even more dire than we made it out to be in the movie. The fact is that at this rate every single fisheries in the ocean will collapse by 2048. There is tremendous waste that goes on out there! But I think we can do it. The main thing is awareness. We can accomplish great things when we want to. I mean, we've come so far on things like gender equality and human rights and look at what we did to save the whales! If the public gets behind this NOW, then we can change things for the better!

So what can I do? Beside write an article that a few 100 or a 1000 people may read.

(laughs) Write an article that a 100,000 people will read!

Thanks so much for talking to me today!

You're welcome.

Rob Stewart

You can find out more about Sharkwater and Shark Conservation by visiting sharkwater.com or savingsharks.com.

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About Nathalie Vanderheyden

  • Nik Y

    Thanks Nat for this well-researched and thought-out interview. Very interesting and informative. I’m no longer one of the ignorant masses. I’ll share this with all of my friends to spread the word. Looking forward to your next piece! Cheers…

  • Nathalie

    Thanks so much. I appreciate it!

  • CR

    Hi Nat,

    Love this whole series or articles…I want to get involved..I’m live in Montreal and I will research restaurants that serve shark fin soup and push for some change…it’s all about mentality and people if they really know what’s happening….they won’t care if they never eat shark fin soup again!


  • Nathalie

    That’s awesome! It’s all about awareness. Thanks for getting involved. The website for Bite Back has great information for restaurants and how to approach them.