Sea of ​​Shadows
Regissør: Richard Ladkani

ILLEGAL CATCH / Chinese mafia deals with swim bladders from fish, Mexican fishermen are pressed into criminal activity and police are terrified.


On a preview of Sea of ​​Shadows at Soho House in West Hollywood, we meet crew from the ship "Sea Shepherd" along with other characters from the documentary, including investigators Andrea Crosta and former CIA and FBI officer Mark Davis. They all fight against illegal trapping. The organization of Crosta and Davis, Earth League International (formerly the Elephant Action League), has previously collaborated with the director Richard Ladkani in the Oscar-nominated film The Ivory Game (2016)

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Criminal networks

Crosta's goal is to hunt and break up the international criminal networks that engage in illicit trafficking – the fourth largest form of illegal trafficking today. "We have concentrated on snipers and illegal trappers on the one hand and the buyers on the other side for too long," he says in the introduction. "The people behind these illegal networks don't care about any of the parts: They don't care about confiscations, arrests or ineffective awareness campaigns. Their business is running smoothly and no one is trying to get hold of them. "

The first scene in Sea of ​​Shadows takes place at night, at sea, in a wild boat hunt in which armed poachers, ready to attack, try to shake off the environmentalists. Later we see the fishermen shooting at the activists' drones, and we lose the image – and, like them, are left to the night dark and a black screen.

The fish is "sea cocaine"

The Sea of ​​Corte, which activists are trying to protect, lies on the Mexican Pacific coast. The French documentary filmmaker and underwater pioneer, Jacques Cousteau, called the ocean area "the world's aquarium". Like other precious areas of the planet, this ocean area – with its dolphins, whale sharks and hundreds of fish species – is on the verge of destruction and can face a biological collapse in a few years. The main problem is not overfishing, but the activity of global criminal networks.

The totoaba fish swim bladders are sold for astronomical sums in China

Sponsored by intermediaries with connections abroad, local fishermen buy large-mesh nets that are perfectly suited to catching totoaba fish, the "cocaine of the sea". The totoaba fish swim bladders are sold for astronomical sums in China
- up to 400 kroner per piece, since traditional Chinese medicine attributes a number of beneficial properties to the bladder.

For Chinese mafia groups, this trade is a perfect means to launder money. As if the poaching was not enough, the nets also catch everything else: dolphins, sea turtles and the small and rare vaquita whale, a niche species that is critically endangered. Increasingly, criminal organizations are focusing on natural resources – which few people care about – and which are nevertheless difficult to control, count and protect.

Split village

The poor fishermen are tempted by the extra profits this brings. They get into trouble with brutal gangsters when the team that works with activists at Sea Shepherd cut and capture the nights they borrowed money to buy. We also follow frustrated law-abiding fishermen who work with filmmakers and investigators: "They kill our ocean," says the fishermen, "and afterwards, when all the fish have disappeared, our city dies as well." When father and son leave the boat in the morning, they see the fishermen in the neighboring boats making threatening gestures towards them – and raising their arms as if they were aiming at them with guns.

Forensic investigators Crosta and Davis have a meeting with nervous villagers. Despite being scared, they want to contribute information. As investigators speak to a local man who says he saw police receiving money from local fishermen, a drone hovers over their heads. "Who's his drone?" Crosta shouts. 'It's yours. They film every time we talk to people like you. "" Who is deCrosta asks. "I don't know, I don't know." Digitally distorted faces, masked voices. The immediacy of these scenes shows how explosive the situation is. The protests among the fishermen in San Felipe can turn into riots. Investigation at sea can lead to violent attacks. Land meetings can attract the attention of hidden and powerful enemies.

Corrupt and save authorities

Sea of ​​Shadows, Director Richard Ladkani, USA

Investigators have become accustomed to receiving threats. "Someone has to take on this job," Crosta insists. It is a war, and that means you need intelligence and investigation, which is a delicate matter. He explains: "Employees of international NGOs are afraid to do this work, because if they start digging in corruption and criminal activities in the country they work in, they are thrown out. You have to go higher up and cooperate with the authorities, which we also do as soon as we find evidence. Most of the people I talk to at the local level are either corrupt, afraid – or both. ”

rescue Operation

The film also contains a human drama and tough dilemmas among the activists. As the number of vaquita whales drops to twenty-one, marine biologists are planning a rescue operation, led by veterinarian Dr. Cynthia Smith. With relief and great cheer, they manage to catch a couple of the small whales and take them to the floating rescue station, where they hope to keep the vaquitas safe for the fishing nets. But when they arrive, one of the vaquita panics, and before being released into the open sea again, it hardens and dies of a heart attack. "It was a heartbreaking moment when we lost the whale and I was in no way ready to be filmed," Cynthia Smith tells me after a screening of the film, "but the director, Richard, filmed in a respectful way and showed that this defeat was a crucial moment that made us understand something important: that there is no plan B. The last whales must be rescued out on the high seas – otherwise they will die. ”

Precious species are disappearing

“Five hours south of Los Angeles, criminal organizations are pushing a whale to total extinction. We have to save these animals – not to lose hope completely, ”says Crosta at the beginning of the film. Before the official premiere, with US politicians and officials present, Crosta sees some hope: After the film won an award at the Sundance Festival, Mexican authorities could not pretend the vaquita had already been eradicated. Mexican authorities have now launched a project in which warships cooperate with the coastguard. Something good, but far from enough to reassure us: We've got a glimpse of the dark, criminal chaos where precious animal species disappear forever.


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