FishAct recently partnered with UK based Fin Fighters to investigate illegal shark fishing and finning in Morocco. Combining Fin Fighters’ scientific expertise on sharks and FishAct’s Citizen Inspector Network has laid the foundation for a powerful new collaboration in marine conservation. Fin Fighter Lou Ruddell writes about her experiences working with FishAct on the ground in Morocco.

Staring into the big dark eye of the shark a terrible chill came over me, and in that instant it hit me; the cold, stark remembrance of everything I had seen in the last three weeks, and in that very moment I knew my purpose in life, I knew like never before the importance of saving these incredible creatures; of saving sharks.

Then shaking my head and breaking out of my day dream I looked around me, I was sitting in Plymouth train station on my way to a school lecture gazing into the eye of Bruce, my cardboard cut-out Mako shark. Looking at Bruce I had been transported back to a moment when a few weeks ago I was staring onto the eyes of a real Mako shark, a dead Mako shark.

I have always deeply loved sharks and last year I began Fin Fighters; a not for profit group working to end the sale and distribution of shark fin and dedicated to pushing for increased protection of sharks globally. So when FishAct approached us to collaborate on a project in Morocco monitoring shark fishing in that area, we jumped at the chance of doing something practical to help save sharks as well as the opportunity of working closely with a group that we greatly respected.

The trip was mainly centred on spending time in ports and markets to see if there was any evidence of sharks or illegal shark fishing and as FishAct team taught us how to conduct these inspections we taught them what to look for and how to identify sharks, and together we travelled the coast compiling our findings.

Despite spending the last 3 years researching and campaigning for sharks, until these port inspections I had never seen a shark in the flesh, this for me was the strangest and the most shocking part of the trip, but not for the reason I expected.

Something happens when you are in a port or market monitoring and collecting information – you become centred on that moment and taking that photo or finding that equipment, or finding that shark. Collecting the evidence becomes key. In the adrenaline of that moment every emotion you would expect to be having as a shark lover is absent. You are there to do a job and honestly this completely threw me, at one point I was even handed a baby Mako shark to hold by an enthusiastic fisherman; something I would normally be devastated by. But I felt nothing, for which I was ashamed and confused.

I spent a good deal of time in Morocco beating myself up about my confused reactions to seeing the animals I loved so desperately being slaughtered, but eventually I realised that these emotions were always there, that they were just pushed aside in what was my coping mechanism, and it worked; I honestly don’t think I could have done the job otherwise because actually what we saw was for me so deeply and profoundly upsetting.

Fast forward to the plane ride home and suddenly the sobbing starts and it didn’t stop for a good few hours. There it was, it all came out, all that sadness and frustration and confusion – the other passengers thought I was nuts! When it was finished I sat quite calmly and reflected on what we had actually achieved and why it was so necessary to have been there.

We saw many dead and dying sharks but we were doing something to expose the insane extent of that slaughter. Suddenly I felt proud, what we had been doing took courage and a strength I never knew I had.

This trip and working with FishAct has taught me many valuable lessons about practical conservation; the biggest of which was how vital it is to learn how to cope with your emotions when confronted by your fears, and how to push past this in order to get the job done. I learnt that it is OK to do this, it does not make me a machine, just a human being.

I move forward now with a better understanding of myself and a firm resolve. Fin Fighters will continue to push harder than ever for the protection of sharks, and although I will never look at Bruce the cardboard shark in quite the same way, I am glad because my resolve to save sharks will forever be the stronger for it.

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