Originally posted on The Black Fish Blog Page. Photo by Nico Jankowski.

Having just returned from an undercover investigation into shark fishing with The Black Fish in Morocco, Phil Root writes about his personal experiences. Photo by Nico Jankowski.



I step off the plane at Marrakech Airport and the heat hits me, it is 10am and I’ve been awake for 26 hours give or take the hour of neck cramping sleep I had on the plane. But I am excited and nervous, I still have to pick up a hire car and drive it to Casablanca. This it turns out was a little easier said than done, I find the car hire booth and wait for the sales rep to show up, after negotiations on model of car I am taken outside and driven to a garage in the centre of the city. The car is a larger model that we had expected, but should be good for transporting our gear around so I get in and try to orientate myself in a car that (being from England) is set out back to front, I set out nervously into the wrong (or so I was corrected by someone later, the right) side of the road.

It is midday in the middle of Marrakech, it is chaos as cars and mopeds come at me from both sides, I don’t have a map or a Sat Nav, I turn down a quieter side street and not being able to judge the cars size yet plough the right hand wing mirror into a parked van! Broken glass sprays into the car. I carry on regardless and hope I can find a garage to replace it later and eventually find my way onto the highway headed to Casa.

Arriving rather shaky, stressed and tired it’s a welcome feeling to meet by the co-ordinator smiling and reassuring me that the wing mirror incident was nothing to worry about, ‘it’ll only cost us 800 euros’ he chuckles. Meeting everyone at the hotel it quickly became clear that I was in the company of a very diverse group who were all equally creative and intuitive. Working on a campaign like this intuition and creativity is exactly what it needed as there is a lot of thinking on your feet, you have to be a self-sufficient and self-motivated individual as new information can be discovered and acted on at any moment.

For this campaign the main focus was to relay the Northern and Western coasts of Morocco, visiting ports along the way to assess what types of fishing were occurring and whether we saw any practices that warranted further investigation. For most of the volunteers this was just another week out of many travelling and working on conservation issues, for me it was the first and I felt excited if not a little out of my depth. This feeling of discomfort didn’t last long though as working with the group to solve problems and plan new strategies kept us busy and living out of a rucksack, constantly on the move made me feel strangely at home.

One way to document illegal fishing practises is by taking pictures. To capture the footage we needed we had to be inventive; even though we were playing the innocent tourist, in some places it was simply prohibit –for obvious reasons- to take photographs. This is where the small extreme sports cameras came into their element. One of the team had brought with her a bum bag (50p from the local charity shop), into which she cut a small hole at the front and inserted her camera so that only the lens stuck out, another quickly followed suit and bought a ‘Prada’ bag from the market for around 5 Euros. A few days later – I couldn’t stay behind - we could capture all the footage we needed without anyone noticing. Walking around the port however with a hidden camera definitely gets your pulse racing. To you it seems so obvious you’re just waiting for someone to start pointing and yelling at your bag “camera, camera”.

Moroccan cities usually house a market area called a ‘Medina’; a place usually very old and consisting of winding cramped streets and alleys selling an array of clothing, antiques, carpets, household wares and food. It was whilst wandering around one of the Medinas I started to notice a common thread to all of them, they sold football shirts in vast quantities. Most of the population it seemed were football mad and with the World Cup just starting everyone had the fever. After this I noticed most of the fishermen also wore their team colours; this gave me the idea to gain their trust by wearing their favourite football team shirt.

Strolling confidently into the next port I spot a bright yellow and red shirt. Emblazoned on the back is the name ‘MESSI’, fishermen and workers look at me and smile and I shake some of their hands. We are shown around the port by an enthusiastic fisherman and as we duck under some barbed wire fencing we are told “this is for the sharks”. I take a look around and notice some baiting hooks for a longline, I head over and smile, they regard my shirt and smile back. I ask if I can take a photo, ‘sure, no problem’. The fisherman is no fool, he knows we’re tourists and at the end of the tour asks for a little help towards his fishing gear and bait, we give him a little money to say thanks, knowing he has helped us out as much as we helped him.

Being on this campaign for three weeks and seeing everyone develop interesting and creative ways to the task at hand, I feel the campaign has been a success and an experience that I will take with me. I have made some new friends and look forward to the next time I may see them, sleep deprived in a cramped hotel room plotting new and ingenious ways to help protect sharks.

By Phil Root