Interview with David Nickarz – Sea Shepherd Activist

Dave Nickarz

Dave Nickarz in Antarctica | Photo credit: Michael Williams – It’s A WILDLIFE – Nature and Wildlife Photography

David's Misir Wat Ethiopian Lentils - Recipe recreated and photographed by Anna Pelzer

David’s Misir Wat Ethiopian Lentils – Recipe recreated and photographed by Anna Pelzer

This week we welcome David Nickarz, an inspirational activist who was recently elected Vice President of Sea Shepherd Canada and has sailed on a total of 8 campaigns over 17 years including the successful campaign to stop illegal whaling in the waters around Antarctica. In addition this interview David shares with us his delicious recipe for his version of Misir Wat an Ethiopian lentil dish.

We had the pleasure of meeting David back in May at the Animal Advocacy Camp in Vancouver, and were so appreciative from what we learned from his presentation about the Sea Shepherd campaigns and what their members endure in their goal of saving our ocean’s wildlife.

A life-long environmentalist with 25 years of active experience in forest conservation, marine wildlife protection and working to end the use of pesticides and other toxins, David has also stood up for the ancient rainforests of Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia. This successful civil disobedience campaign in 1993 was the largest in Canadian history. David also played a key role in the successful effort to end logging in Manitoba’s provincial parks.

David is the Energy Conservation and Water Stewardship critic for the Green Party of Manitoba and is seeking election in 2016 to the Manitoba Legislature as MLA for Wolseley.
We wish David all the best in this election, it’s people like him who will truly make a difference.

What has the biggest reward been for you in being part of the Sea Shepherd campaigns?

The biggest reward would be the results we get. It’s one of these groups that says we’re direct action, so we’re going to go and stop something — and then we actually go out and stop something like the Antarctic anti-whaling campaigns where you if you count up all the whales over the seasons that we’ve saved. It’s thousands and thousands. So the most rewarding is that you go out on a campaign and you chase some whalers around, you’re not really sure what you did, then you come back, and as you pull into port you get the report from the whalers that say, Sea Shepherd stopped us from killing 500 whales this season and they’re all mad and they accuse us of that and of course we say yeah great! We’re only happy to do that!
There are campaigns like the seal hunt campaign which are much much worse and quite the opposite and other campaigns as well — you might not see the results but you might see them in the long-term like ten years later. There are so many other issues like climate change and other animal rights issues; for example, it’s hard to measure any kind of success.  It takes decades to see where society has moved to in general, but with the Sea Shepherd campaigns you sometimes get results.


For any readers interested in joining the Sea Shepherd crew, do you have any basic tips on how to prepare?

Yes, sometimes people have various amounts of experience and sometimes they don’t think that a brief amount of experienced counts as experience or skill — because they ask you to list all your experience like if you’ve ever done any plumbing, electrical or carpentry or things like that. Just list everything.  For example, if you helped your uncle build a shed once when you were 15, put carpentry down, or if you can change spark plugs on your motorcycle, put mechanical work.  Even those beginner skill are a lot better than a lot of people have because if you’ve never picked up a hammer before and you’ve never cut a piece of wood, that’s a far start from the beginning.
I also find it’s a little bit gendered — I find women are not as willing to oversell their skills.  They are more reserved that way. For example, I was interviewing this couple; the husband was an electrician and the woman said she didn’t have much experience.  She said, “oh yeah, I’m a landlord and we fixed up a bunch of properties and I did the drywall, electrical and plumbing and did some carpentry, flooring.” I was like, “so you did everything in the house?” and she was like, “oh yeah but it wasn’t like professional done” and I said, “of course that counts!” So when you have experience with something, just put it down on the application, and if you’re unsure put it down anyway and you can describe it in the interview.


What are some of you favorite documentaries?

I actually have a lot of trouble watching documentaries on animals or global warming because I know how fucked we are and how cruel humans can be so I don’t need to watch Earthlings or anything like that.  It’s just horrific and I’ve seen some of it close-up; I’ve seen the seal hunt. The last documentary I watch was How to Change the World which was about the beginning of Greenpeace organization and all of the founders like Paul Watson, Ron Precious, and the late Bob Hunter was one of the big ones featured.
That one was pretty enjoyable because I’ve been involved with organizations for 26 years now and every organization goes through some sort of drama or powershift, or some sort of interpersonal thing goes on, and it really reflected that it happens to everybody and it made me think — oh, this is just normal and it’s not just something that happens to one or two groups, every group seems to go through some sort of shift and dynamics so that’s something to just keep an eye on.


What has been the most memorable protest you have been involved with?

In 1992 I was involved with a brief trip to Churchill Manitoba — that’s right at the shore of Hudson’s Bay and there were local people and people from a ship from an aquarium in Chicago that were capturing Beluga whales for their aquarium and I was 20 years old, I was still in university and I had been sort of an aspiring activist for a while. I watched the Big Earths first movement come up and I was like, “yeah I should do that”, and then I got involved with some animal rights people and I became vegan that year.

So I go up with five of us all together — one guy is from PETA in the United States and there was three local guys and me, and we take a van up to Thompson and then a train to Churchill, then I realized, “Holy crap this is for real!” I am in this town and the train only runs twice a week; it’s not like you can just jump back on a train and head home. This was the first time I had exposed myself to any physical danger.  There were a lot of people in the town that didn’t like us, and they knew exactly where we were.

It was a town of five-hundred people. That said, we significantly increased the population! I felt genuine fear. I was thinking, “wow, this is dangerous” and it was sort of the first direct action I had been involved with. That was very memorable for me because in the long term we sort of stopped them from capturing anymore whales.  In the short term, we missed out on that capture, they caught the whales and took them to Chicago and that was it.  We essentially lost. Besides the fear I felt, I also felt that if I’m going to be really serious about this (you know there is more than just me involved, more than just my mind and ideals), it’s actual lives that matter here, so it really made me question — am I going to be doing this for my whole life or not? and of course I chose to.  I had decided to become an activist. This was the most memorable because it was like there’s talk and then there’s action, and now it’s time for action, and you’re in the middle of it.  You know, there’s no endless pontificating — it’s time to do something.


How did you manage to eat healthy food while living on a ship during the Sea Shepherd campaigns?

It’s changed over the years.  When I was first on the ship they used to serve vegan food and meat, and so they went vegan somewhere in the early 2000s. Of course, you’re not going to be having salads and fresh vegetables for very long, so you have to go with the stuff that’s going to last the longest. If you’re looking to have a coleslaw, you can have cabbage and onions since you can keep those for months on board.
As far as baked potatoes, apples and even avocados, if you keep them in the fridge they can last a quite long time. We have an amazing group of chefs that make the food on our ships and they’re able to be very creative with the menu and with what they have. It’s not just processed and canned food, we can still have whole foods. Two month old cabbage isn’t the freshest, but it’s pretty good.


As a Green Party Candidate, how strong is your stance on environmental issues?

The biggest issue I think that the world is facing and where I live, is climate change and one of the biggest issues in that subset in the Energy East Pipeline.  They are proposing to push through Manitoba, and my stance is “absolutely no” and I’ll do anything possible to stop it because we can’t afford to bring that much greenhouse gases and tar sand.
It’s just as simple as that. We’re preparing for a meeting with our MP because it’s largely in the Federal jurisdiction right now – obviously they’re deciding on pipelines and all that kind of thing.

I’m with a group in town that’s formed and it’s actually been quite active – It’s the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition and they’re trying to get a lot of people involved.  They’re getting people to talk with their public officials. Hopefully we can stop this before it gets to the point where we have to use civil-disobedience or anything like that.

My environmental view in politics, I don’t think they’ve changed — I haven’t been elected yet but I campaigned and put a leaflet out and I said I’ve been vegan for 24 years, I’ve been involved with the Sea Shepherd — so I put all my stuff out there so people know what I’m involved with. It didn’t actually matter, which I guess was the point of my second talk at the Animal Advocacy Camp presentation, which is not a very strong point but it’s that people didn’t look at it and go “oh my gosh you’re a crazy radical.” I know I’m in a riding here that is probably the most environmentally minded, let’s say in Winnipeg (although that’s arguable but let’s say it is), it didn’t really matter!

I think maybe next time my opponent might speak up some more because I got within 400 votes of winning. My opponent also claims to be an environmentalist despite him being in government for 12 years and not really doing anything significant, so I think it might be conducent to see who’s the biggest environmentalist.  That’s the positive thing in politics because in a lot of places, people would try and minimize the stuff I’ve done and say, “oh yeah, your Sea Shepherd stuff let’s not talk about it that much”, but it’s going to come out anyway because we have the internet and people know exactly what we’re doing.


Tell our readers about the renovation business you and your wife run. How does your sense of environment play into your
business practices?

There’s a couple ways I could have run my business. I could have actually grown a lot more than I have in the last couple years. I really enjoy doing the work myself, I’ve taken on helpers once in a while, but I don’t really believe in growth for the sake of growth. I kept the business small on purpose because I didn’t want to be in charge of an empire, or be in charge of 10, 20, or 30 people. I don’t know if I could have actually done that — I don’t know if I have the business savvy to do that, but I like to keep it small. I don’t have a van or a truck, I downsized to a Nissan Versa which is just like a big hatchback and that’s one of the things I’ve done.
I could rent a van or a truck if I need one when I do need to deliver stuff. So I guess, in one way, just keeping it small is important. I try to reuse a lot of the materials as I can — there is an enormous amount of waste in the building industry. I’m doing a renovation on my bathroom and in taking it apart there is so much waste.  It is kind of unavoidable if you’re doing renovations but you can do better if you try to reuse things, like recycle metals, of course.  It just makes sense because metals are so expensive. Energy renovations like installing insulation and sealing up a house to make sure it’s energy efficient, especially in Winnipeg where we get the really cold winters.  We lose a lot of energy out of our houses, so telling people how to do that is part of the job as well.


What’s your favorite plant-based dish to make at home?

I make a Ethiopian lentil dish called Misir Wat. It’s red lentils, onions, tomato, garlic, ginger, a little bit of cardamom, salt and pepper and the main spice is an Ethiopian chile powder called Berbere that’s really red.

When you boil red lentils they kind of fade, but with the Berbere it makes the lentils nice and red. It was my favorite so I learned how to make it and how to scale it up and make a bunch of it so we could freeze it. Not only did I like it, but I found out at dinner parties that it makes a great chip dip.

I scaled up the recipe to make 10 cups at once, which makes a huge batch and I actually cooked it for the Sea Shepherd ships in Alberta back in 2013. I did a batch on each ship and really there was no leftovers — people just ate it till it was gone. The recipe is in the cookbook Cookin’ Up A Storm by Laura Dakin.  She’s one of the cooks on the Sea Shepherd, and at the last minute she put my recipe in there and so I got it published, or my version of it anyway, got published by a Sea Shepherd member. The book has little stories about campaigns and then related food that might make sense because if you’re in the middle of a storm, you’re not going to make soup right?!


Thank you to David for the interview! To our readers who want to learn more about David and his work you can visit his website at | twitter | facebook


David Nikckarz Misir Wat ethipian lentils

Misir Wat – Ethiopian Lentils

Serves 4


  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) ground berbere
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon (2 ml) ground cardamom
  • 1 can (14.28 ounces/405 g) no-salt-added tomato purée
  • 2½ cups (625 ml) dried red lentils, picked over, rinsed, and drained
  • 5 cups (1.25 L) water, plus more as needed



  1. Add the berbere, garlic, and cardamom and cook, stirring frequently so the spices don’t burn, for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the tomato purée and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the lentils and stir to combine.
  4. Gradually add the water, about ½ cup (125 ml) at a time, and cook, stirring frequently, until all the water has been absorbed and the lentils are tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. The dahl should be fairly thick. It will thicken further as it cools. If the dahl is too thin, cook it a little longer; if it is too thick, add a little more water to achieve the desired consistency. Season with salt to taste.



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