SharkBoat Capt. Chris Wade heads from Marina del Rey to Costa Rica on a mission to combat pirate fishing

Capt. Chris Wade leads a dangerous mission to help fish, sharks and the planet

Capt. Chris Wade leads a dangerous mission to help fish, sharks and the planet

When I walked into the main salon of the aging 73-foot steel research vessel parked at the fuel dock in Marina del Rey, a weathered, square-jawed man with shoulder-length blond hair greeted me with a heartfelt handshake. Marine biologist Chris Wade first offered me a beer, and then we proceeded to sit down and talk about the passion he has dedicated his life to: SharkBoat (sharkboat.org), an organization devoted to protecting sharks and, in turn, fisheries that sharks rely on but are threatened by the illegal activities of unscrupulous fishermen.

Capt. Wade and I sat in a setting not unlike what Quinn, Brody and Hooper gathered around in the famous bonding scene of the film “Jaws,” but before I started to question him about his vast experience with sharks, Wade reached up and grabbed an 8 x 10 photo from a shelf and handed it to me. It was from a National Geographic expedition he led (the production later won an Emmy). The underwater photograph showed a female diver holding the dorsal fin of a 17-foot great white shark. She was being slowly towed (and hardly noticed) by one of the most feared and lethal animals on the planet — a striking image. The photo, in many ways, illustrates what Wade is all about: dispelling preconceived notions about sharks and bringing greater awareness to some of the secrets of the ocean.

Wade and his crew will depart from the safe harbor of Marina del Rey in October to make for Cocos Island (a Costa Rican national park) for what will be an open-ended expedition focused on deterring illegal fishing activities in waters that yield fish that is consumed by millions of people. He has been given authority by the local government to police an enormous area that’s become notorious for attracting fishing boats that blatantly ignore industry practices and standards adopted in the name of sustainability and conservation.

— Pat Reynolds

You were a captain of dive boats but began running your own boat in 2010, dedicating your life to protecting sharks. What made you decide to do that?

Getting in the water with great white sharks. Yeah, for me, that’s what it was.

Out of the cage?

I really didn’t know we were going to be working out of the cage — it wasn’t super clear. But, yeah, my very first dive with great white sharks was out of the cage.

Can you sense that they are not looking to attack?

They are checking you out and sizing you up, but they’re not looking at you as food. It’s pretty interesting to have that level of interaction with that size animal. It’s amazing and addicting beyond all imagination.

Now that you’re on your own, it’s more about conservation?

That’s really what it’s about for us — conservation and filming.

We’re about to jump off on a crazy adventure. Through partnerships and agreements with other non-profits, NGOs and government agencies we’ve been given the right to research, monitor and enforce [fishing activities at] the marine-protected areas and other particular areas off Cocos Island and throughout Costa Rican waters. We’re going to fight pirate fishing.

What does pirate fishing entail?

Pirate fishing is illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing — basically it’s poaching. They may be using an illegal tactic, illegal method or illegal mode. Some of it might include shark finning, but more than likely it will include the use of [prohibited] fish-aggregation devices [sometimes dynamite]. In the end, this kind of thing just hurts the whole world.

If you see people breaking laws, will you engage?

Absolutely we’re going to engage. That’s one of the reasons we’re focusing on Costa Rica. They have very specific laws and parameters in reference to their marine protected areas, but historically they have been unable to enforce them. We’ll be there to guard and protect the treasure. Our role is to make a presence — we’re looking to turn a game of checkers into a game of chess.

Is the Costa Rican government paying for you to be there?

No. This is totally self-funded.  We are doing a crowdfunding outreach coming up to help out with some of the costs. We’ll be doing some kind of show and also doing documentaries along the way. We’re looking at this being edu-tainment.

For someone who is used to swimming with sharks and documenting shark behavior, is this new enforcement detail comfortable territory?

It is new territory, but we have had a couple of interactions where we ran into people who were doing things they should not have been doing and we engaged them. That is where this comes from. At some point I sit back and say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” If you can’t make your money fishing where you’re supposed to fish, find another gig.

Visit sharksboat.org to follow Wade’s adventure or give to the cause.

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