Meeting the famous Ric O’Barry

Last week American activist and former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry visited the Netherlands. During a fundraising event for his organisation The Dolphin Project The Black Fish got a chance to shortly sit down with this influential character. Richard O’Barry (76) is a well-known activist, who spend most of his life protesting the captive industry of marine mammals and freeing them whenever he could. We were curious to hear about his past experiences in ocean activism and excited to hear about his future plans.

Initially Richard O’Barry started out on the other side of the issue, working as a dolphin capturer and trainer for the Miami Seaquarium during the 1960’s. He got globally renowned as the trainer of the 5 dolphins that starred in the popular tv series Flipper. After having lived so close with these dolphins for so long, O’Barry began to doubt the ethics of the work he had been doing those past ten years. When one of his favorite dolphins, named Kathy, presumably committed suicide in his presence he decided to radically change paths.

On Earth Day in 1970 Ric founded his organisation The Dolphin Project, aiming to end the hunt and exploitation of dolphins and whales worldwide. Over the 40 years that followed, he succeeded to release over 20 dolphins back into the wild. In 2009 O’Barry released the Academy Award winning documentary The Cove. This film showed the world how, each year, hundreds of dolphins are brutally slaughtered and captured in Taiji, Japan.

O’Barry’s work in Japan is remarkable. He has been monitoring the killing cove in Taiji since 2003 and still returns each year. In great detail, he narrates his encounters with the local fisherman, the Taiji whale museum, the local police and many others. Campaigning in Japan is extremely difficult. Due to the corrupt authorities, the local inhabitants of Taiji and its surroundings are completely unaware of the annual slaughter. Attempts by O’Barry to get locals involved, to reach out to schools and to broadcast The Cove documentary on local tv and internet have failed more than once. Nevertheless the numbers of killings seem to be going down.

Additionally, thanks to the international success of The Cove, Japan seems to be realizing that ‘the whole world is watching’. Using The Cove and the documentary Blackfish as an example, O’Barry tells us how he is convinced that making movies is ‘the new activism’. Movies have great potential to reach and touch a very wide audience.

The main purpose of O’Barry’s visit to the Netherlands is to convince the Dutch government to put an end to the dolphin shows at the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk. O’Barry says he feels a deep responsibility for the dolphins that are kept in the Dolfinarium. The Netherlands was the first country in Europe to hold wild dolphins captive. These dolphins may even have been captured by O’Barry himself. Now he believes The Netherlands could well be the first country to completely ban the captivity of wild marine mammals.

He stresses that the present issue is not only about animal well-being and animal rights, it is just as much about people as it is about dolphins. “To teach a child not to step on a caterpillar is just as important to the child as it is to the caterpillar” he says. We are seriously mis-educating our children by showing them dolphins that are doing tricks only to be fed dead fish. The dolphins that perform in these shows are ‘freaks of nature that we have created for our own amusement’. They have nothing in common with free, wild dolphins.

He then reveals that he is working to establish a so called dolphin sanctuary in the Mediterranean. Even-though he cannot elaborate too much on it yet, this promises to become a place where former show-dolphins will get a chance to ‘retire’ and be ‘untrained’. There is even talk about a collaboration with the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk. The amusement park is considering to participate in an experiment that O’Barry proposed to them last week. Some of their dolphins will be sent to the sanctuary for a two year period. Eventually it will be determined through scientific assessment whether the natural habitat has improved the well-being of the animals. The idea sounds promising and we are thrilled to see it unfold in the near future.

Finally, when we asked O’Barry what he would say his greatest achievement would be so far, he answered by pointing out all the people that were present at the venue. ‘This’ he says, ‘When I started I was on my own’. The captivity issue did not exist. Now more and more people know about it. Documentaries like Blackfish and The Cove have caused significant drops in visitors to theme parks like Seaworld. ‘However, as long as people continue to buy tickets, the show will go on.’

Interview and article by Anne Twaalfhoven

The sun, food and people; How I got hooked on investigations

Sicilian sun, inspiring people and delicious food. This is all I’m thinking of while staring out of the lab window. It’s grey and rainy in Bremen and I’m waiting for my samples to defrost. “What the hell am I doing here?“ I can’t stop asking myself this question while my thoughts return to Sicily again. It has been a week since I came back home to daily life from my first investigation as a Citizen Inspector.

I have been involved in activism and conservation for over a decade now and the Citizen Inspector Network was meant to be one of a number of important projects to me. But I have to admit that it became something much bigger to me than I anticipated.

I was very excited and full of anticipation when I got on the plane to Italy on July 31. I guess some tension was involved as well, as I kept reading in my training curriculum while waiting for the flight. At the airport of Palermo two other inspectors and the heat of Southern Europe welcomed me in the middle of the night. During the two-hour drive to our accommodation I tried to imagine what the landscape would look like in daylight and enjoyed the smell of my first Sicilian summer night. When we arrived in the flat around midnight I went to bed and felt in a light and fitful sleep.

The next morning I woke up very early because of the heat. I roamed around the flat and had a cup of tea on the balcony. The landscape was even more beautiful than I had imagined it the night before. Green mountains with small and idyllic villages, fig trees and a blue-green ocean up to the horizon. By and by the other people woke up and we started the day with breakfast and a first meeting to discuss the plans for the following days.

Our investigation focused on the illegal use of Fish Aggregating Devices and illegal driftnets. Both these fishing gears are highly destructive and produce a high amount of by-catch, such as turtles, whales and sharks. To observe and document the preparation and use of these types of fishing gears in the port of interest we had to cover a long period of the day. We split up in three teams of two people, which would then observe the port for two to four hours masked as a tourist couple.

I was surprised how naturally it felt to walk around a port or to sit down on the docks, pretending to watch the horizon with your partner. The Sicilian fishermen were not suspicious at all and didn’t assume that our holiday pictures were evidence of crime and our alleged phone calls an inventory of their vessels and fishing gear. Some of them even invited us to come aboard or to take pictures of their catches.

After every shift we spent a lot of time in front of a fan, trying to concentrate on our notes, photos and audio records to prepare for the debrief. All the evidence we documented during the shift was then collected and stored for upcoming analysis, reports and possible prosecution.

After a few hours of sitting in a port, enjoying great company and a beautiful landscape, one really feels they have made a concrete contribution to help expose fishing crime in Sicily. After a few days the rocks, palm leaves and metal rings (used to construct illegal fishing traps) caused waves of enthusiasm and excitement. Regardless of our sleep deprivation and the danger of getting caught, we wanted to get out in the field as often as possible and got visibly disappointed when we had to leave the port unattended to get a few hours of sleep.

After ten days of investigation it was hard to say goodbye to everyone. In the past days we were sharing joy and frustration, stories and dreams, cooling granitas and the most amazing pasta. Nobody wanted to leave this place, where making a difference felt so easy and naturally. Back in daily life I’m missing this feeling so much, that I can’t wait to return. And I know that each of us will be back on the next investigation very soon.

From Italy with love.. going undercover with The Black Fish

My name is Libby and I’ve just spent an exhilarating 10 days in Southern Italy working as an undercover investigator for The Black Fish’s Citizen Inspector Network (CIN). The mission was to inspect fishing ports and vessels for the illegal use of Fish Aggregated Devices or FADs under the guise of ‘la tourista’.

How it all started

My partner Andy and I were about to quit our office jobs to spend a few months travelling around Europe in our beloved little campervan (a.k.a Vooby) and then hopefully do some diving in Asia. A few years back we’d spent three months volunteering with Global Vision International (GVI) helping to gather research on coral diversity, so were keen to help with another marine conservation project that would fit in with our travels.

It all started at the Dive Show in Birmingham, UK. Andy was drooling over underwater cameras, so I checked out the speaker slots. That’s when I spotted Wietse Van Der Werf (Founder of The Black Fish) who was about to give a presentation about this new opportunity for ordinary citizens to become directly involved in the protection of our oceans.

I listened, totally enthralled.. probably with my mouth open. There was this guy, looking more like a start-up tech founder than an activist, talking about fighting illegal fishing in Europe. Not by hunting down fishing vessels on the high seas – but by gathering evidence over the course of months, even years, to help prosecute criminal gangs working in the fishing industry. This methodical approach was working and a totally different approach to other headline grabbing organisations. The attraction of gathering evidence, whilst remaining totally invisible, really appealed to us. We just HAD to get involved!

How we became undercover agents

Being a part of The Black Fish’s Citizen Inspector Network is not just about whether you can fund it or not. You need to prove your dedication to the cause and a willingness to learn new skills. The aim is to build-up experience over time to help the organisation for the long-term.

It all started with an application form, then an interview via Skype (to show that you are committed and not a total nutter). Once we passed these stages, we then attended a four day training course with a group of other wannabe undercover agents. We were worried that we’d be the token old farts in amongst a load of sprightly young students, but were relieved to meet people of all ages and backgrounds. It was great to chat to all these inspiring individuals over delicious vegan food.

The course was packed with information, covering the identification of fish species, vessel types and fishing gear. They also set up a mock investigation of a local port. Once you’d passed the course, exam and an unofficial personality test it was time to be assigned to a project and start crowdfunding with the #OceanCrowd

Innovative approach

Crowdfunding sounds like the start-up tech company again doesn’t it? This is because The Black Fish are free-thinkers; creative, intelligent and passionate for the cause. They use the latest innovations and technology to help with investigations, such as drones. The Black Fish collaborate with other organisations, most recently with the Wildlife Air Service to help keep a watchful eye on illegal fishing out at sea through aerial surveillance.

The Black Fish do things differently, with hardly any external funding. This is why crowdfunding is a vital and novel way to raise money for projects; and your family and friends will be more invested in the work you are doing.

Crowdfunding our mission

We waited with anticipation for our mission. Then it came.. 10 days in Southern Italy over the summer. Perfect! When we told our family and friends what we’d be doing, I’m sure they all thought we were having a mid-life crisis. One friend asked if Andy, who is as bald as a coot, would need to wear a wig whilst working undercover. Another worried that the mafia would bundle us into the back of a car and knee-cap us.

We launched our crowding funding page and emailed it out to our family, friends and work colleagues. I also posted a more light-hearted “Losing Nemo” campaign on Facebook and was delighted to receive lots of support from fellow scuba divers. Within a month we’d raised well over our target, so sent a personal thank you to everyone who contributed – along with the promise of Italian inspired dinner parties when we returned.

The great unknown

It would be a lie to say that we were feeling relaxed about the project. We are British after all and it is not in our nature to take photos of things we shouldn’t, or to strike up conversations with fishermen in ‘Del Boy’ style Italian. So we decided to get to Italy a few days before to acclimatise to the people, the culture and THE HEAT! Nothing prepares you for the amount of sweat you will ooze during a southern Italian summer. At some points, you actually sweat through your eyes.

Cameras, lights, action!

Before we were due to start the project, we were informed that we were to be joined by a film crew for the whole 10 days! “WTF” we cried! We did know this was a possibility from the training but didn’t expect it to be on our first mission! Will this be like Italian Big Brother? Are my teeth white enough? But I thought we were supposed to be invisible? We calmed down, realised it was a fantastic opportunity for The Black Fish, so made a pact to enjoy the experience.

The ‘safe house’

As we drove into the village that was to be our home for the next 10 days, we were greeted with a smile and a hug by The Black Fish staff. We were also met by two Citizen Inspectors that were ready to leave after their 10 day stint inspecting ports. Both of them were buzzing with excitement and didn’t want to leave.. a very good sign indeed!

The apartment was perfect for the project. It was located in a lovely un-touristy village by the sea. One person in the team commented that this was “the loudest, quietest village I’ve ever known”. It was like being in a fun fair at times, what with the fruit man selling his giant melons from a rickety Tuk Tuk announcing his arrival to the Italian Madres with what sounded like the call to Allah. Then there were the Church bells ringing at unsociable hours and the bar playing ear bleeding Euro Trash pop from the sea front. But this was nothing compared to the circus that was taking place in our apartment. There were a mass of sweaty people coming and going, gadgets strewn all over the place and plug sockets heaving with charging devices. Big pans of pasta bubbled over as volunteer cooks produced amazing vegan food for the troops.

The mission starts

We had an initial briefing on what had happened during the previous 10 days and how we were going to continue with the great work that had already been done. FADs were being constructed and illegal driftnets unloaded from vessels. It was the big change-over from one illegal fishing gear to another. So this was a prime time for us to document sightings of FAD gear being loaded onto vessels and deployed into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Our target port and the vessels moored there were presented and we were assigned to our teams.

Andy and I were split up to avoid bickering on inspections. Plus we had been together 24/7 in a small campervan, so the change was as good as a rest! I got a rare opportunity to do some dangerous driving in a hired Fiat Panda. I had seen the Italian Job so decided to style my driving around what I’d seen in the film.. to my passengers’ absolute horror.

We were both paired with a member of the opposite sex to inspect ports under the guise of tourist couples in love. Andy had two wives over the course of the project – so almost a harem! My ‘husband’ was 10 years younger, so the cougar fantasy was to become a reality. He didn’t seem as keen as me to act it out though. So off we all went (albeit awkwardly at first) to our port inspections.

Undercover inspections

The team inspections were staggered so that the target port could be observed at all key times of the day. Fisherman could arrive with FAD gear (palm leaves, plastic containers and stones) on the back of a truck and unload it onto a vessel within minutes, so it was very easy to miss this vital evidence.

The first day was more of a test run to get to know our fellow Citizen Inspectors and familiarise ourselves with the port and vessels moored there. As predicted, we felt rather awkward at first and just marched up and down the dock – as far from the vessels and fisherman as possible. BUT THEN we spotted a huge illegal driftnet being taken off of a vessel! We took photos from a distance, but now wish we had gone up and taken closer shots and chatted to the fishermen. After a couple of days, you gain the confidence to do this. In this particular port the more obvious we were, the least likely we were to be considered suspect. But this may not always be the case.

We carried out two inspections every day, each lasting three hours. With the several teams operating in shifts, this meant the port was monitored for around 14-16 hours each day. Each team reported back its findings and photographs to the Intelligence Officer.

As we all relaxed with our partners and roles, the evidence of illegal fishing gear was being pieced together. The most exciting moment was when we spotted a car turn up to port LOADED with palm leaves. 20 minutes later, another car arrived pulling a cart heaving with everything you need to deploy FADs – palm leaves, plastic containers tied together and stones.

One vessel in particular remained a mystery because you couldn’t see in to it to suss out what fishing gear they were carrying. With a wink and a smile, my CI partner and I were invited aboard. Our hearts were racing as we knew we just had to make the most of this opportunity. The Captain had a BIG personality, so was keen to show us around and even turned on his navigation computers to show where he would be fishing over the next few days. Then, he left us alone on the bridge! We managed to photograph documents and containers with fishing gear that were otherwise hidden from view. So, after I’d diplomatically declined the Captain’s romantic advances, we left the vessel with adrenaline pumping through our veins.

Mission highlights

There were two stand-out highlights from the mission. Firstly, the feeling that you are really making a difference with the work you were doing and secondly, the opportunity to work with an incredible group of people. It renews your faith in humankind as you share a collective passion for environmental conservation.

Advice for future CIs

This is a SERIOUS volunteer project, so not for the feint-hearted.

• Be a people person – you will be working and living very closely with others.
• Be prepared to muck in with chores.
• Be ready to step out of your comfort zone.
• If you have a problem, don’t sit on it – air it!
• Keep smiling and laughing!

The Black Fish allocate 10 day periods for each citizen investigation as its HARD WORK. They want to get the best out of you whilst you are A1 fit. We had to work in intense heat and had some early morning starts. So it’s important to drink loads of water and catch a siesta when you can.

It was a truly memorable and rewarding experience. We have the utmost respect for the work The Black Fish are doing for marine conservation, by focusing on illegal fishing activity, and the unique opportunity to become directly involved in the front line activity as an ordinary citizen. We are looking forward to signing up for our next investigation!

How the Battle of Britain inspired our Citizen Inspectors

The Citizen Inspector Network, a new conservation initiative which trains ordinary citizens to gather evidence of illegal fishing, is on target to become the world’s largest civilian fisheries monitoring network by late 2016. While the programme is innovative, the ideas which inspired it can be traced back to the Royal Observer Corps, a former civil organisation founded in 1925, which made its mark during the famous Battle of Britain, carrying out essential monitoring for enemy aircraft.

Let us bring you back to the start of the Second World War conflict. The year is 1940, at a moment when civilian observers in Britain were about to make history with their binoculars, notebooks and radio sets. Not much different from the tasks our Citizen Inspectors fulfil today, these ordinary people helped to realise one of the largest intelligence operations in history.

In 1940 the British experience a particularly warm summer. The threat of German invasion seems imminent and the country is on high alert, bracing itself for the oncoming onslaught. The Royal Air Force (RAF), which has been hastily strengthened with additional aircraft in an effort to bolster the country’s home defences, has a total of 650 fighter planes at its disposal.

Pilots scramble to their aircraft

British fighter pilots scramble to get their aircraft up in the air as fast as possible.

While during that summer over 40 new aircraft roll off the production lines every day, the RAF finds itself hugely outnumbered against the might of the German Luftwaffe. The Germans had steadily built up their air force since the early 1930s and their fleet now numbers a total of 2,800 fighter planes and bombers. Almost the entire Luftwaffe arsenal would soon fly across the English Channel to cause havoc and devastation in Britain’s towns and cities.

While seemingly outnumbered, the British are steadfast determined to defend their small island, at any cost. The government initiates numerous programmes to develop innovative methods to strengthen the nation’s defences. While not all of the ideas prove successful in the field, two developments in particular make a major difference to the ability of the RAF to efficiently deploy its fighter squadrons, which ultimately, against all odds, help Britain win the battle for air supremacy over European skies.

Tracking aircraft via radar

A member of the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) tracking aircraft via radar in 1944.

By the mid-1930s British scientists were quietly testing a new type of technology which allowed for the automatic identification and tracking of aircraft and ships over great distance. What later became known as radar, the system could detect the reflections of radio signals on moving objects, thereby establishing their location, distance, speed and heading.

After initial testing proved successful, a ring of early warning radar stations, also known as Chain Home, were constructed along the British coast. Now giving pre-warning of how many aircraft would be approaching and from which direction, the RAF could direct its few aircraft more strategically. Radar made the crucial difference in offering the RAF squadrons just enough time to get their fighters up in the air, able to intercept enemy aircraft before they had a chance to drop their deadly bombs.

Observer post

Members of the army and civilian observers at an early observation post.

However, as soon as a formation of German aircraft would cross the coast and head inland, the radar stations would cease to track them and formations could change course and altitude, thereby evading further detection. To solve this, the British had come up with a simple yet ingenious idea.

From 1917, during the First World War conflict, civilian observers were stationed out of monitoring posts to observe the sky for the growing threat of enemy aircraft. While the observers proved useful in spotting and reporting on air activity, it wasn’t until 1925, in the wake of the conflict, that the need for aircraft observation obtained official recognition.

Observers in action

Members of the Royal Observer Corps in action at one their observation posts.

A more official network was established that would spot and track formations and routes of enemy aircraft. Known as the Royal Observer Corps, the new organisation trained ordinary people, many of them older, First World War veterans, in the art of identifying aircraft formations from small ground stations. From 1939 onwards the Royal Observer Corps operated over 1,500 observation posts, stationed all over the country.

Any suspected activity in the air would be relayed to a central point known as RAF Fighter Command, where the intelligence would be analysed and plotted on large maps. This essentially allowed British commanders to track enemy attacks and deploy their small number of RAF resources far more effectively that previously possible.

Royal Observer Corps HQ

A Royal Observer Corps command centre, which collects and analyses the information

The Royal Observer Corps located and tracked hundreds of aircraft raids during the Second World War conflict and by directing allied fighters to victory, it caused such great losses to the German air force that it was soon forced to abandon its large scale bombing raids, meant as a prelude to a seaborne invasion that never happened.

In other countries, similar tactics were soon put into action to scale up aerial monitoring efforts. In Finland, the voluntary auxiliary military organisation Lotta Svärd, which was originally formed in 1918, had a large membership undertaking volunteer social work in the 1920s and 1930s. During the Second World War, it mobilized to replace men conscripted into the army. Amongst other tasks, the ‘Lottas’ served at air raid warning positions; observation posts that would spot aircraft crossing into the country from the Soviet Union.

Finnish 'Lotta's' at an aircraft observation post

Lottas observing aircraft activity at one their observation posts.

From a purely strategic point of view the conflicts during the 1940s teach us important lessons. The need to innovate and think up bold plans in the face of overwhelming opposition is a question that has been on the minds of military leaders throughout history. Could those strategic obstacles and the innovation which followed them guide us to tackle some of the growing challenges the world faces today? Could military history inspire new approaches to conservation, to help us track poaching and illegal overfishing more efficiently?

The Royal Observer Corps recruiting

The Royal Observer Corps recruiting for volunteers.

Since 2010 The Black Fish has worked at the forefront of driving innovation in conservation; testing the feasibility of new and creative ideas while running field investigations and enforcement campaigns in cooperation with authorities to expose and prosecute illegal fishing. In our recent projects we have revived some long forgotten and seemingly redundant ideas and tactics of decades ago, now readily deployable in the fight for environmental protection and the sustainability of the planet.

The global scale of destruction and conflict during the Second World War is luckily far behind us. However, the world, undoubtedly a safer and more peaceful place now, is facing new global challenges. While those challenges are of a different nature, what is not so different is need to direct limited resources to where they have the biggest impact. In this regard the odds of vastly outnumbered British fighter pilots is not so different from the world’s fishing inspectors currently struggling to take on the vast scale of illegal fishing and the organised crime activities that it facilitates.

A Citizen Inspector observing a port for illegal fishing activities

A Citizen Inspector monitoring vessel activity in a port suspected of harbouring illegal fishing activities. Photo by Kukka Ranta.

The Black Fish is looking for people to volunteer two weeks a year and join its Citizen Inspector Network as civilian fishing inspectors. We offer training, accommodation and a chance for you to actively help investigate and aid prosecution of fishing criminals. Are you interested? We look forward to hear from you!

Become a Citizen Inspector today

Sign up at

How our illegal fishing investigations became self-funding

Last week we launched a new initiative named #OceanCrowd which enables 75% of the necessary funding for our undercover investigations to be raised through participation. How does it work? We question its creator Wietse van der Werf.

Illustration by Sally Madden

What is the #OceanCrowd?

#OceanCrowd is a unique crowdfunding platform that is run by our volunteer fishing inspectors, known as Citizen Inspectors. They give two weeks a year of their time, take part in a four day training and are then deployed as part of an undercover investigation for ten days. Because by the time they are qualified inspectors people have already made such a committment to be involved, they are very driven to crowdfund a contribution towards the costs of the investigation they join. This is where the #OceanCrowd comes in.

Why crowdfunding?

Many environmental programmes where you can volunteer in field work or data collection ask for a contribution from participants. We could have asked for a simple payment but the way we now run #OceanCrowd makes the participatory nature of crowdfunding do wonders. First of all it makes fundraising a shared responsibility for all those in our community. This minimises the need for traditional costly fundraising approaches such as street collections or office based fundraising staff. Secondly it enables us to access potential donors we would typically not be engaged with as people encourage their friends and family to contribute.

So it builds on those personal networks?

Yes and I would go even further to explain it as a type of emotional participation. Chances are that your mother, brother, nephew or colleagues at work are not as passionate about marine conservation as you are. They will be keen to support a loved one in their efforts but less likely to support this type of activism out of their own initiative. As those small networks of friends and family support those close them to join our investigations, it creates a stronger sense of collective ownership over our work. Then there is also the added benefit of those they have supported to report back on the outcomes of our efforts, in person.

And it makes you less reliant on traditional funders?

This new approach turns a project like an investigation that traditionally would be funded by one or two grant giving foundations, into an activity supported by hundreds. Say 20 Citizen Inspectors join an investigation, now it is likely that 300-400 people end up funding it. #OceanCrowd is enabling us to build strong community around ocean conservation.

Don’t you still need those grants?

Absolutely! Being more financially independent and opening up new avenues of funding is all about making us stronger and our model more sustainable as we increase our donor base. However, the reality is that most grant giving foundations have their own focuses and objectives. As there is less of a need for us to appease these donors’ specific interests, such as with campaigns to protecting more charismatic species or focus on specific geographical regions, we can run investigations on those issues that aren’t as popular, yet equally important. Examples of this are our work on illegal fish aggregating devices and the illegal shellfish trade.

What are your investigations focused on the coming months?

We typically do not announce where we are heading before our investigations but you can be sure that we will be out with increased numbers of Citizen Inspectors to scale up monitoring capacity along Europe’s shores. It’s all in a bid to locate illegal fishing and by working in direct partnership with enforcement agencies, we hope to secure further confiscations of illegal fishing gears and prosecution of those breaking the law.

Seems you have a good thing going with the crowdfunding!

Crowdfunding is all about involving ordinary people in realising ideas and making people feel ownership over the projects they support. If anything, the enthusiasm of ordinary people and their participation is what we need now more than ever in ocean conservation and the #OceanCrowd is a powerful tool for us to make this happen.

Citizen Inspector training – photos

In April and May 2015 The Black Fish ran its first public Citizen Inspector trainings in Germany and the UK. Over the course of four days trainees would learn about anything from laws on fishing to fish identification, vessel and fishing gear monitoring to first aid and evidence collecting. The Black Fish runs multiple training courses a year. Interested to become a Citizen Inspector yourself? Learn what’s involved and apply!

The following photo report is brought to you by photographers Alan Lodge and Kukka Ranta


Citizen Inspectors working out their route during a port inspection. Photo by Kukka Ranta.


The Citizen Inspector training curriculum, containing all the knowledge that the trainees absorb during their four day training. Photo by Alan Lodge.


Matty Mitford of The Black Fish delivers the first aid part of the training. Photo by Kukka Ranta.


Trainee inspectors practice CPR on fellow participants. Photo by Kukka Ranta.

Discussing the investigative strategy while on the road. Photo by Alan Lodge.


Wietse van der Werf of The Black Fish runs trainee inspectors through an inspection exercise in a North German fishing port. The all-day exercise typically takes place on the third day of the training course. Photo by Kukka Ranta.


Working out the lay of the land around a fishing port. Photo by Kukka Ranta.


Citizen Inspectors enjoying lunch in a British fishing port. Photo by Alan Lodge.


Observing fish landings is all part of the inspection process, keeping an eye on what comes off fishing vessels and on to shore. Photo by Kukka Ranta.


Checking nets and their mesh sizes during a port inspection. Photo by Kukka Ranta.


Working out where things are is all part of the process, especially when inspecting large, busy fishing ports. Photo by Alan Lodge.


The Citizen Inspectors cooperate with enforcement agencies and other NGOs during their investigations. The Wildlife Air Service deploys aircraft and voluntary pilots to track fishing activity at sea. Here Wietse van der Werf, co-founder of the air service, talks to trainees about the benefits of aerial surveillance. Photo by Kukka Ranta.


Trainees sit an exam on the last day of their training, which they have to pass before they can become a Citizen Inspector. Photo by Alan Lodge.


After passing the exam, Citizen Inspectors graduate and are given their CI qualifications with applause all around. Photo by Alan Lodge.

Looking back on rowing 2048 km

Remember Frank? This very active member of The Black Fish committed 2014 to something extraordinary; rowing 2048 kilometers for the oceans on a rowing machine at home. Did he make it? Rowing 2048 kilometers is a serious business, which consisted of an impressive 178 work outs, 11.5 kilometers each in not even a years’ time. And needless to add: it hasn’t always been easy.

“Until June 2014 I was feeling fine and rowing was ‘easy’, it became part of my daily routine. But in July I started to get back problems which seemed to increase each day. I had to stop rowing for some time and went to a few therapists. Nothing really helped until I saw a Reiki specialist and two days after that I started rowing again. I made up for the time lost and was back on track before the end of the year.”

On the 28th of December Frank got ready for the final sprint of rowing a non-stop marathon (42.195 meters). With the support of one of his good friends, lots of energy drinks and some of The Black Fish T-shirts, Frank completed this task in 3 hours and 20 minutes. We are just as proud as Frank himself!

Franks’ 2014 rowing adventure not only made him fitter and stronger; Frank also collected over €500 for The Black Fish. We can’t thank him enough for his amazing support!

Note for his biggest fans: Frank will continue with ‘Rowing for the Oceans’ in 2015, he is now training to fulfill a non-stop 100km work-out at the end of this year. You can support him via Twitter and Facebook.

The Next Big Five

After reading the book Eating Animals, Belgian Yves Drieghe changed his eating habits overnight and decided to ban all animal products. “I had no idea what the next day would bring (considering dinner) or how my next shopping trip would end (shoes!)”, Drieghe says. To inspire other people he set up The Next Big Five, about five animals that we rarely see – such as salmon and pigs – and the impact of our (food) habits on nature, people and animals. The Next Big Five started out as an online story but has now grown into an exposition in which The Black Fish plays a little part as well.

“All we need to do is introduce an alternative for animal related products like leather, eggs and so on”, Drieghe thinks. “People aren’t bad, they don’t go shopping with the intention of hurting animals. They shop their mayo because they are used to buy the product for some years and they’re used to the price.” Drieghe doesn’t just want to show alternatives to animal related products; he wants alternatives without accepting any loss in comfort, quality or taste. “I love to be well-dressed and will look for good looking lifestyle alternatives. The same goes for plant-based food. It’s at least as good if you find the right spot.”

In the exposition The Next Big Five – about sheep, cows, chickens, pigs and salmon, photography is used to touch on people’s conscience. “I really wanted Jo-Anne McArthur in it because her book We Animals and photos are most inspirational”, says Drieghe. Losing Nemo will be shown as well. “Another powerful way to talk to people is by combining facts with an interesting format. Losing Nemo, the brilliant animation movie The Black Fish made, is the best of both. I learned a lot of facts from it and love to share it at the exposition.”

Drieghe hopes that after seeing his exhibition people realize that there’s an alternative to the everyday animal related product. “All designers, chefs, brands and organizations that collaborated inspire me. I hope they’ll inspire you too. Because they really can.”

More info:

The Next Big Five will be shown at food festival Krachtvoer in Antwerp, 18 & 19 October

Image (c) Cnudde Jan

Baltic Sea tour in full swing

The Black Fish is currently on tour, speaking at free, public events in eight countries bordering the Baltic Sea. Calling for action on the protection of this fargile sea, Baltic Coordinator Emma Källqvist is circumnavigating the entire sea in six weeks. As our work in The Black Fish expands into the Baltic Sea, we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to build our movement in the Baltic region.

We know there is a lot of interest in what we’re doing and we also know that the people in the region are passionate about protecting their ocean. We’ve been visiting Baltic countries to talk about the problems facing their seas and about the investigations we’ve already started there.

If you love the oceans, particuallry the Baltic, please come along, learn about the problems facing The Baltic Sea, our work on how to deal with these issues and how you can be personally involved in protecting them through our volunteer and Citizen Inspector programme.

The Baltic tour is in full swing already. We’ve had some great events in Finland and Estonia and still have Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Sweden to visit before the end of the October. There are specific language events for each talk on Facebook, so please add yourself if you’re interested in going to any of the events. The talks will all be in English, with the exception of the Swedish dates which will be in Swedish.

The full remaining dates are:

Saturday 27th September: Riga, Latvia – Skolad iela 15, Riag, LC 1010.
13:00 pm. FB event:

Sunday 28th September: Vilnius, Lithuania – Mediateka (Vilniaus g. 39,
II auks(tas). 13:00pm. FB event:

Tuesday 30th September: Gdansk, Poland – Starter, 80-386 Gdansk, ul.
Leborska 3b. 18:30pm. FB event:

Tuesday 7th October: Berlin, Germany – Europsiches Theaterinsitut e.v,
Shauspieslschule Berlin, Rungstr 20, 10179. 18:30pm FB event:

Friday 10th October: Hamburg, Germany – GWA St.Pauli e.V.
Hein-Köllisch-Platz 11 + 12 20359. 19:00pm. FB event:

Wednesday 22nd October: Malmö, Sweden – Stora Salen på Studiefrämjandet,
Ystadsgatan 53C. 18:30pm. FB event:

Monday 27th October: Göteborg, Sweden – Galleriet på Allégården, Södra
Allégatan 4. 18:30pm. FB event:

Friday 29th October: Stockholm, Sweden – Medborgarskolan Rum 301,
Hagagatan 23. 18:30pm. FB event:

The Black Fish goes scuba diving

Twelve ocean lovers recently participated in a scuba diving weekend in the Netherlands, organized by The Black Fish en Het Duikhuis to learn all about underwater investigations. Jack Wootton and Natalie Wolton – both very active volunteers for The Black Fish in England – were among the participants. They can’t wait to get back into the water!

Everyone did a number of indoor dives and then went on to do four open water dives in freshwater. “I have always wanted to do my PADI, as I love the aquatic world”, says Jack. “I believe having this skill will open up more opportunities for me and allow me to help The Black Fish in future events such as underwater cleanups.”

The group was led by Shirley Butter, instructor at Het Duikhuis. Het Duikhuis and The Black Fish found each other when Het Duikhuis was looking for an organization that helps protect the oceans and the Black Fish was looking for a diving centre to work with. Shirley had a great weekend teaching the ocean lovers. “It was amazing to work with such passionate people.”

Both Jack and Natalie can’t wait to go diving again. “The first day out of the water I was just itching to get back in”, Natalie explains. “The participants from the UK are going to frequently meet to dive together and organize some of our own underwater cleanups as well as explorations. We are planning on making some dives within the next month and it will be a frequent occurrence. We also all want to stick together and progress to the next course in PADI diving, hopefully with Het Duikhuis again. There’s no stopping us now!”