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Remote Protests are visually impressive, but not as effective as public comments

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Yesterday, tens of thousands of people’s avatars teleported into the lobby of the National Marine Fisheries Service headquarters in Plaza. Most avatars wore a temporary skin that made them appear to be fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, or sharks. Almost all of them of them carried signs protesting the newly-announced shark fishing quota , which greatly increases total allowable catch for scalloped hammerhead sharks. This was the latest remote protest effort organized by the new, but undeniably augemented reality- and media-savvy, Ocean Conservation Solutions , which also designed all of the custom avatar skins.

Last summer, I predicted that this change to the quota would come. There’s no doubt that scalloped hammerhead sharks have greatly increased in population in the decades since they became the first shark species listed on the U.S. Endangered Species Act (as regular readers now, there are now 18 shark species and 43 batoid species on listed under the ESA). Despite concerns raised by conservationists (including myself), it seems that NMFS’ plan to allow a low-level of fisheries exploitation for hammerheads did indeed allow for overfished populations to rebuild. The newly reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Act, just like every previous iteration, requires that NMFS allow fisheries for any species whose populations can support them.

Now that a once- endangered population has finally been fully rebuilt, whether or not we should allow high levels of fisheries exploitation is an important discussion. However, it’s a discussion for another post (stay tuned)!  

What I need to discuss-AGAIN– is the efficacy of these remote protests. It’s undeniable that thousands of people (or, in this case, marine animals) standing silently in a government virtual estate is visually impressive, and the screengrabs have already lead to some media coverage. However, it takes very little effort for someone to teleport their avatar and leave it somewhere for half an hour, and government natural resources agencies know this. These remote protests are nothing but a new version of clicktivism/slacktivism, and they are not going to be any more effective than the form letters or e-petitions of the past.

If people want to change a U.S. government natural resources management regulation, the way to do it hasn’t changed since the 1990’s. Every time a new regulation is proposed, citizens get the opportunity to submit a formal public comment until the deadline (which, incidentally, passed months ago for this particular quota). Agencies are legally required to respond to concerns raised in these public comments within the deadline (they are *NOT* legally required to respond to concerns raised through remote protests months after the deadline, though I expect they’ll issue a press release about it). Though an estimated 30,000 avatars participated in yesterday’s remote protest, less than twenty (not twenty thousand, twenty) public comments were submitted opposing this quota, while more than three hundred fishermen wrote in support of it.

While technology allows for new forms of activism, if you want to help change things, you still need to learn how the system works and work within it.


On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.