At 71, the founder of Sea Shepherd has just been forced to resign by his American subsidiary. But the intransigent does not disarm. Exclusive.
Paris Match. What happened at Sea Shepherd, the organization you founded in 1977, to push you to quit?
Paul Watson. A few months ago, Sea Shepherd USA’s Board of Directors asked me to step down. The legal proceedings of Japan against me, my presence on the red list of Interpol allegedly prevented the association from obtaining the insurance contracts necessary for its proper functioning. My presence not only increased premiums, but deterred insurers from covering us, I was told.
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I was assured of course that, without being a member, I could continue to participate and give my opinion on the major orientations. It seemed to me that this point of view presented a certain coherence and I accepted. Except that in June a director was appointed to head the board and I felt that they were starting to marginalize me. Even more so when I was presented with the new direction: it was to become a more research-oriented organization. Less controversial.
Above all, I was asked to keep quiet, which for me is unacceptable.
The opposite of the Sea Shepherd philosophy!
Obviously! The very essence of Sea Shepherd is controversial! I say what people don’t want to hear, I shake the coconut tree and I make people think. However, Sea Shepherd USA was to become a white-collar association behind offices. Unthinkable! I refused to subscribe to this line. The two board members who shared my views…were replaced a few weeks later. By two people I don’t even know. Probably to put me in front of the fait accompli, this team published two articles in scientific journals, officially explaining the new policy. I have therefore decided to send a letter to these journals to clarify my position. I was then made to understand that I had no right to speak on behalf of Sea Shepherd USA. I was even given to understand that my reputation and finally my name were an obstacle to forging partnerships with researchers. They also wanted to drop our pirate logo. Clearly, they wanted a Sea Shepherd stripped of its substance.
You, the hard-nosed pirate, cunning enough to defy higher interests, how could you allow yourself to be manipulated like this?
My lawyers advised me to be careful. So I won’t give the name of one of the council members who helped me tremendously when I was on the run and had to get back to the United States. I succeeded in large part thanks to him. He used this lever to make me swallow certain decisions that I didn’t like. It was therefore “in confidence” that I agreed, for example, to leave the board of directors. Even if I quickly understood that, from then on, my voice no longer seemed to count much. I felt like I was still getting paid to give my image but not much else. Above all, I was asked to be quiet. What is unacceptable to me is the reason why I decided to resign.
The story repeats itself. At Greenpeace, of which you are also a founding member, you were fired for your radicalism.
Oh! You know, this kind of thing happens regularly. There comes a time when activists, focused on the reality of their action, are overwhelmed by office administrators, and even kidnapped by people with very different agendas. I’ve never been a fan of backroom politics and some may take advantage of that. This was precisely the case. Sea Shepherd had built its reputation on non-compromise, non-violent aggression and controversy. They didn’t want that anymore.
How do you feel today: shocked, sad, angry?
I am relieved. I no longer have to endorse their activity. And then the response of our members to this episode was extraordinary. I received thousands of letters of support. A few years ago, I made the decision to decentralize Sea Shepherd. And I welcome that. Each organization is now autonomous, placed under the aegis of Sea Shepherd Global, of which I remain the director. And all support me. So it won’t affect the whole organization. In addition, I intend to create a new entity in the United States which will defend our cause as it should. This episode gives me a boost. When I was fired from Greenpeace, as you remember, I had nothing left, that’s when I created Sea Shepherd! Thank God I’m not there today. Quite the contrary.
My original philosophy is, remains and will remain: non-violent aggression.
From now on, when we hear about Sea Shepherd, we will have to see if it is Sea Shepherd USA, to which you no longer belong, or another organization that has your backing. It’s going to be a bit complicated, right?
Sea Shepherd offices around the world will not be affected as Sea Shepherd USA has elected to no longer be part of our global organization. Against my opinion. They no longer wanted to follow my original philosophy which is, remains and will remain: non-violent aggression. We are not violent. We never hurt anyone. We are currently campaigning with three boats in the Mediterranean, three in African waters, one in the Baltic, one in the North Sea towards Iceland, another in Australia. It doesn’t matter what Sea Shepherd USA does or thinks. In my opinion, many of its members will join Sea Shepherd Global.
You are not afraid, despite everything, that this will affect the image of the organization in general, as if it were now more about power struggles than environmental protection?
As a founder, I have remained constant in my fights. My goals have not changed. If that had been the case, I would have continued to take the money from Sea Shepherd USA without saying a word. But I quit. Precisely so as not to endorse abuses that lead to more bureaucracy and to dilute our primary objectives. We have never done advertising or merchandising. Sea Shepherd USA does. Find the mistake…
Since 1950, 40% of plankton has disappeared. However, it provides 70% of the oxygen we breathe.
You are 71 years old today. Do you think that could have played in the fact that they “dared” to dismiss you?
If that’s what they thought, that’s misunderstanding me. I am as passionate today as I was when I was 20. If they imagine that I am going to shut up because I am of retirement age, they are seriously mistaken. In the “profession” that I have chosen, there is no question of retirement. I will be present until the end. Furthermore, the destruction of the oceans is more alarming than ever and we all have an obligation to fight to stop it.
After the pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine, we have the feeling that the environmental issue has taken a back seat. Do you feel it?
Since I was born, I have seen the ecological cause vary according to the roller coaster of public opinion. Even if the environmental reality remains the same: climate change and the mass extinction of species are the greatest threat to humanity. Whether this subject is fashionable or not, we must continue the fight. Our desire to warn of the danger and to try to remedy it must persist. We cannot live on this planet without healthy oceans. Since 1950, 40% of plankton has disappeared. However, it provides 70% of the oxygen we breathe. It is a major problem. The situation is much more serious than a recession or a conflict of any kind. It is about the survival of our species. However, we have no right to be pessimistic. We have that of fighting tirelessly. And that’s what I will continue to do.