This is a production of Cornell University.
So good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. For those of you still up in the back, please take a seat and we can get started. My name is Frank DiSalvo. I'm the director of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. And I represent Cornell's president, David Skorton, and interim provost Harry Katz, neither of whom is able to be here this evening. So I welcome you all to the 17th Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture. So this is something that's been going on for more than a decade and a half.
Since its inception, the Iscol lecture has brought eminent scientists, policymakers, thought and opinion leaders to Cornell to inform and promote discussion of critical issues facing our planet. The Iscol lectures-- past Iscol lectures, who are all listed in your program-- have addressed climate change, biodiversity, poverty and inequality, chemical ecology, and design of sustainable infrastructure, to mention a few topics that are central to achieving a sustainable future. But this is the first time that we have ever invited a Hollywood star.
Ted Danson is here not because of his distinguished Hollywood career, which includes 15 Primetime Emmy Awards and 10 Golden Globes, but because of the way he has leveraged his celebrity to raise public awareness about the state of our oceans. It certainly says something about his passion for conservation that his first book was not about himself-- a rarity in Hollywood-- but about life on the 71% of the planet that we humans do not inhabit.
Perhaps this level of dedication should not be a surprise from the son of a faculty member who was an archaeologist and a museum director. Ted became interested in acting while attending Stanford, left Stanford, and later received a master's in fine arts from Carnegie Mellon.
You'll hear more about Ted from Professor Drew Harvell, who has had the privilege of working with him. Before I turn it over to Drew, let me end by expressing our collective gratitude to Jill and Ken Iscol and their family for their generosity and vision in supporting this annual lecture, which has done so much to help us see the interconnections between the many facets of human welfare and the vibrancy and health of the planet's environment.
In fact, Jill Iscol and her daughter Kiva, a Cornell graduate, are present here this afternoon. Jill and Kiva, would you stand up for a minute and just wave?
I also want to thank David and Pat Atkinson, who were unable to attend today, for their support in establishing the Atkinson Center. And now I'd like to ask marine biologist Drew Harvell, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, to more fully introduce Ted Danson. Drew.
Thanks very much, Frank. I'm going to lower this a little bit before we turn it way up. So there's no more important time then now on our planet, with huge food security issues looming, to turn our attention to securing ocean fisheries. And yet some could see the future.
Ted Danson, through his pioneering work with Oceana and his successful book, has been at this for over three decades. Indeed, I have his book here. And I've used this in some of my teaching, some of the figures, and really appreciate the very clear [INAUDIBLE] communication in that book. And it's called Oceana, Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Protect Them.
Mr. Danson founded the American Oceans Campaign in 1987. And it later merged with a new nonprofit called Oceana in 2002. Oceana, this combined NGO, is now the world's largest ocean conservation and advocacy organization, with an international reach. Mr. Danson remains a force on the Oceana board.
Mr. Danson and Oceana have focused on fisheries policy-- actually very tightly-- fisheries policy and ecosystem function as their key issues. They're scientifically based focus has yielded really impressive and exciting returns. And I'm not going to go into them. But I'm looking forward to hearing from Ted about these.
I think-- no, you're going to tell all about it. I'll just say one thing, at least the part of it that really struck me. The issue, if not the solution, is simple. Despite our increased needs right now from the oceans we are on the down slope. We have basically passed peak fish. You've heard about peak oil?
Well, we've also passed peak fish. Mr. Danson will tell us how Oceana's focus on their key issue, basically how to manage the world's catch, how to figure out that 50% of the world's fisheries are being managed or extracted by only approximately 10 nations. And so there's a very clear strategy that they're taking in approaching this problem.
So the other thing that I've noticed as a marine ecologist is that we've been in a rather amazing revolution over the past decade in effectively overhauling some of the world's vulnerable fisheries. And this is something that also you'll be able to talk to us a little bit about Ted. And Oceana has been right in there pushing with their lobbying force.
Now I have one other connection with Ted Danson that has been a really delightful collaboration. I owe Ted personal thanks for graciously donating his time as a narrator in a film that David Brown has produced about our Blaschka glass invertebrates and our quest to use art as a lens to create interest and inspire wonder in ocean biodiversity.
And I'm not sure if it sounds to you like a small thing or a large thing, but to us it was everything. Ted's narration is valuable not only because of his name, but because of his transformative voice, his passion for the ocean, and talent in narration.
And the talent in narration reminds me that involving visionary celebrities doesn't just bring their name, but it brings the professionals to the front line of communication about the environment. And of course, this is one of the goals of this Iscol lecture, to mix it up among scientists, politicians, celebrities, and a lot of those cross cutting voices, to help communicate.
Ted Danson maintains a grueling film schedule. And we are incredibly lucky that he's here. Although most know Mr. Danson as Sam Malone from his 275 episodes on Cheers, a look at his awards list, which Frank has already mentioned, is simply staggering, including Golden Globes, Primetime Emmy Awards, and American Comedy Awards, to say nothing of the four seasons of this charming lead in Crime Scene Investigation.
So as an author, policy guru, and celebrity, I really welcome Danson to the Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lectureship. Please join me in a warm welcome.
Thank you very much. Give me a hug. Give me a hug. Give me a hug.
If I stand behind the podium, you're going to expect more from me. If I come out front, I'm vulnerable and you can't expect too much. I did really well on those introductions. I won 15. I was nominated 15 times and won one. But I'm liking Cornell. Thank you so much.
Yeah, my friends, Jill and Ken, who's not here today, but Jill-- Kiva, I'm so glad you're here. But thank you so much for getting me here. You say yes to things in life months in advance. And then it comes close to it and it's like, oh dear lord, really?
I have to fly from Calgary-- it has been the best day, seriously, that I've had in a long, long time, to be around these astoundingly bright, committed students and teachers [INAUDIBLE] uplifting and very exciting for me. So this is like win-win-win. Thank you for exposing me to Cornell. Really, it's a bright, bright center. Frank, thank you so much for escorting me throughout the day and exposing me to how Cornell works and how this center in particular works. It's brilliant. So thank you. Appreciate it.
Karen Pincus, thanks for the walk. Sara Pritchard, both of you being the Iscol award committee chair, past and present, thank you so much for all the work that you did to get me here. I appreciate it. Paula-- where is Paula? You are the best. I can't see you. Paula [INAUDIBLE]-- unbelievable, thank you so much you. You made my trip so effortless and very sweet. Thank you.
Drew Harvell, you already spoke of our relationship. I'm very excited to go forth with this film and where it leads us and Oceana together, so thank you. David Brown, I know you're here. You did an amazing job on this film that's coming out, Fragile Legacy. So thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you all for coming and letting me talk about fish. That's what I do when I'm not acting. This is weird. This is better. Is this better? Yeah, somehow, because otherwise you were an afterthought. Sorry.
When I'm not acting, this is what I do. I go around and talk about oceans. And I've learned the hard way that if you talk about fish, you can put people to sleep in five minutes, tops. So I'd like to start off with a headline, which is if we focus on revitalizing our oceans and our fisheries, we would be able to provide one billion fish meals a day to the planet forever.
And that at a time when we're expecting two more billion people by the year 2050, some people say. We're already having trouble feeding one billion of us now. So that's the headline. Save the oceans. Feed the world.
So it's a little weird, I imagine, to have some actor talking to you about oceans and fish. I usually say it's a little weird for the guy from Cheers, but then I realized throughout the day I've had to stop and explain that that's a sitcom that I shot in the latter half of the 20th century. This aging thing-- wow.
But anyway, yeah, so it's strange. Let me explain my story, my journey, a little bit, so that you-- well, it's my journey. And it's what I've learned along the way.
You'd have to say that I've been concerned about oceans for about 30 years. Or, if you take into account this fever dream I had when I was seven-- and this is gospel truth-- I used to wake up, fever dream, screaming, running into my parents, just screaming. And they were panicked. They didn't know what was going on.
And I was just moaning. And they'd walk me in finally, as a last resort, and put a washcloth on my face. And it was like oh, hi. And I would go back to bed. Well, this happened three nights in a row. And they were so bored with it by the end of the third night that they finally said can you describe your nightmare?
And I literally said I'm sitting on a beach. And I hear God's voice saying Ted, you have one hour to empty the ocean into this bucket with this spoon that has holes in it or the whole world will explode. Obviously, your basic messiah dream that is typical with us actors, but nevertheless, you'd have to say that I've been thinking about oceans and concerned for quite a while.
Then you hard cut to-- no, actually I grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona. My father was an archaeologist then a director of the Museum of Northern Arizona and Research Center. I would play with my Hopi friends and pay no attention to the myriad of scientists that would come every summer through the research center, because you went from 13,000 feet at the San Francisco peaks down to the bottom the Grand Canyon, basically in an hour.
You had all of the ologies showed up. So I was surrounded by science. My sister paid attention and went to Wellesley. I played with my Hopi friends, cowboys and Indians, which was great. And it all went over my head.
My mother was very church going. And I like to say later in life I thought she was a very spiritually-guided woman. Faith was very important to her. So for me, those were really the two pillars, I think, in hindsight that allow you to do this kind of work, advocacy.
You need the science to lead the way, or else you're going to blunder in and make mistakes and not make anything better. But you also need the spirituality, the faith. Because unless we all understand that we are in this together, and that what I do has an impact on you, and vice versa, and no one's going to get out of this unless we all do, is basically a spiritual thought. We are all the same.
So I thank my parents for that. I think from my father I got that sense that this time you're here is not just about you. It's about your stewardship of what you've been given. But that was through osmosis. Because I was off playing with my friends.
Then I went-- well, I'll leave out the whole college thing. But let me cut forward to about 1985, '86, in the middle of the Cheers-- 1982 Cheers sitcom. But I'll fill you in later, for those who don't know. But it was very rock and roll. And they were paying me way too much money. And I felt guilty. And this could be energy, if I used this money correctly. What should I do?
Same time, we moved into a neighborhood in Santa Monica that was in the middle of a fight to keep Occidental Petroleum from drilling about 60 oil wells-- slant drilling-- into the bay. And it had been a local fight that had been going on for about 10 years. And clearly, even though it was a relatively wealthy neighborhood, we had nothing like the oil company.
So I got together with the head of this, a man named Bob Sulnick, and we came up with a plan to put the whole proposition into an initiative on the ballot, to vote on city wide. And we won. And there can never be any oil wells drilled along the Santa Monica Bay, the Will Rogers State Beach, because of that.
And we were so enamored with our new-found activism and it was a little bit like hey, my father has a barn. Let's put on a play. We started American Oceans Campaign, because we liked each other's company and we wanted to keep this conversation going.
So naively, whimsically, we went to my brother-in-law who was an oceanographer at Scripps. And we sat down with some scientists he put together. And we learned that coastal pollution was one of the biggest issues back in the 1980s.
And we hired a lobbyist. And we went to Washington. And this was with a lot of support from the California delegation, from Congresswoman Barbara Boxer-- then Congresswoman-- George Miller. John Kerry, as senator, was very encouraging.
So we had a lot of help. And we became-- although a little bit of a celebrity, boutique organization-- we became a very respected voice in Washington, DC. We do this for about 12 years. One of the things I learned during that time was not to throw bricks at the business community. It was kind of fun in the beginning to blame Bush Sr. for everything.
And then you learn a little bit more and you go oh, all right, this is way more complicated than just throwing bricks. We actually started to become friends with oil company execs, because we kept doing battle with them. But they were decent, nice guys.
And they invited us up to Anwar to hopefully change our mind. They didn't. But we ended up finding a way to work together. We had a recycling used motor oil program in Los Angeles that saved a huge amount of oil getting into the bay. Because do it yourself-ers just dump it down the gutter.
So I learned, I think, early on that you do need to engage the business community or it's hopeless, and not to throw bricks. Bob Sulnick, my environmental lawyer friend who co-founded American Oceans Campaign with me, moved on. We went through a series of trying to find new directors. And I was starting to get those phone calls from my friends-- why do you call me only when you want money? Because I was the chief fundraiser. And I was just, oh, I want out. I've done my-- I'm out.
And then along came Oceana, which was a Pew Foundation seed money with international foundations chipping in together for about a $10 million pot a year to start a brand new ocean organization. Fantastic, that's my way out. So we merged. The staff all got to go, some of the board. But then I was totally hooked. Because it was such a bright, bright group of people.
So I'm now on the board of directors of Oceana for the last 12, 13 years. I am the guy who stands in front of the tent and says thank you so much for watching whatever it is you've been watching that I'm in. Love to sign an autograph. Do me a favor. Come on in and meet this Drew Harvell. Meet this marine biologist who has something incredibly interesting to tell you that I think's important.
So I've always used my celebrity that way. It's really what the book is about. It was co-written with a wonderful writer, Mike D'Orso, but all of the science is Oceana. And my name's on the book. And I contributed, absolutely. But I am the celebrity waving the red flag, getting the attention, getting the invite to speak to people. And I am so grateful to be exposed to all of this. But I'm very clear I'm not an expert. This is my way of bailing out for the Q&A part. I'm an actor, for God's sake. Ask somebody else.
But anyway, so there we are. So Pew Foundation-- I think also the government came up with a state of the oceans report some 20 years ago. I can't remember. But Pew did this as well. So we knew what was going on with the world's oceans. And what Oceana did was to look at the most pressing things facing the oceans, figure out whether they could have an impact, and then tackle that.
For us it became overfishing. That was the biggest, most pressing threat to the oceans. I'm going to peek at something here. OK, so, sorry, I'm having one of those little moments. Here were the things that became obvious. Dr. Daniel Pauly, who's-- I'm sure you scientists here in the room know him.
He's this amazing scientist, especially on fisheries. And he did a study that showed that 1988, from that moment on, world fish catch has declined every year-- less and less fish. More and more boats going out with equipment that can see that fish over there and catch it.
And yet all the boats are coming back with fewer fish. Ram Myers did a study. Nine out of the 10 big fish that were around-- 90% of the big fish that were around when I was a kid in the '50s are gone. Meaning this many shark in the '50s, now there's only 10% left. King mackerel, tuna, swordfish, marlin-- all of the big fish had been depleted by 90%.
The UN FAO said that something like 70% of the world's fisheries are either fully fished or overfished 1/3 of them have collapsed. Some people disagree with some of those numbers. But the trend, without doubt, is going down. We are fishing out our oceans.
Now I'm going to stand, just because I need the energy. Forgive me. So now at the same time you're overfishing the ocean-- wait, yeah, let me describe what overfishing means. You have bottom trawling. And some of these bottom trawlers are the size of a Navy-- the industrial fleet of a Navy destroyer.
So they can drag behind now these nets, these bottom trawling nets, that have an opening you could put a 747 wing tip to wing tip. And you don't have to raise the nets anymore, like the good old days, because you were afraid they'd rip on the rocks or the corals. They're are now so powerful, these engines.
And the rollers on the bottom nets are so sophisticated that they just plow over everything and anything, turning the corals, the rocks, the nooks, the crannies where little fish become the big fish that we like to eat, into a gravel pit. And we do that the size of the United States every year. That's how much the world bottom trawls.
Let me put a little parentheses. United States-- I'm saying we, meaning the world-- United States is doing a lot of things right. But as a world, this is the figure. So you're destroying nurseries. And then you pull up these huge nets. And you're after fish A, or a fish this size not this size. You throw overboard, the world-- 1/3 third of the world's catch every year is thrown overboard.
So you can see the impact of destroying the nurseries, being that wasteful, having twice the amount of boats on the water than you could possibly sustainably fish, mostly because they're so overly subsidized. If it's an $80 billion a year industry, landed fish, $20 billion are for subsidies to make the boat's capacity greater. So it enables them to go off and do the wrong thing even more.
And we went to the WTO. And we almost got getting rid of subsidies into the language of the Doha round. And then the whole thing fell apart. But that would have been huge.
OK, so you're overfishing the top of the food chain. At the same time, ocean acidification, which is the big gorilla in the room really-- so ocean acidification is the ocean has forever absorbed carbon dioxide and now we're pumping so much of it into the atmosphere that it is actually changing the pH balance of the water.
Here's what's happening to me. I've spoken to about two or three classes today. And I keep going, oh, you said that are ready. No, no wait. That was in a class. So forgive me. Every once in a while I'm going oh man, you're really repeating yourself.
What was I just talking about? Oh, ocean acidification, thank you. I also know I'm talking to the choir. So every once in a while I'm going they know all this. But anyway, I go on. So ocean acidification-- you change the pH balance, which means the water becomes ever so slightly more acidic, which means all the little critters that use calcium to make their shells-- it doesn't bind together.
So now you're attacking [INAUDIBLE], of the sea snails, the corals. You're attacking the bottom of the food chain. At the same time, you're overfishing the top of the food chain. You can see why some scientists might say you could literally squeeze the life out of the oceans.
So that's where we started. We've been in Chile. We've been in European Union. We've been in Belize, up and down the East and West Coast of the United States. And we know that if you stop destroying habitat-- the nurseries-- if you reduce bycatch to zero-- which can be done-- if you use scientific quotas to tell fisherman how much they can take out of the ocean, fish come back. They just do. Maybe not the big transatlantic and Pacific big creatures of the water, maybe not them, but most fish populations will come back in five years ish, if you leave them alone.
World War II, because of the submarines, the fish population exploded. Because no one was fishing, obviously, in the North Atlantic. There was great CNN piece where you saw these Kenyan fisherman just beaming because fish were leaping into their boats.
And it turned out because the industrial fleets had stayed out of that area because of the Somalian pirates, they were too afraid to be there. I actually contemplated thinking maybe we should honor to raise money one of the pirate-- no, that would be wrong. That would be wrong. But leave them alone and fish populations do come back.
So that's what we've been doing for the last 10 or 12 years. And then about two years ago we were going to have this board meeting. And we all met in New York. And we were going to meet-- I this is OK to say. We were going to meet-- oh, this is streaming live, isn't it? So this isn't OK.
We were going to meet with this other organization that had a huge amount of grass roots. And at the last minute-- and we were going to sign off on it. At the last minute it fell apart. And we literally were in our board meeting-- board room with nothing to do for a whole day. And we had this epiphany. If that's my wife, tell her I'm fine. I'm doing well.
We had the epiphany of save the oceans, feed the world. All of the sudden, when we started talking about the oceans from that point of view-- without spinning anything, we're still doing the same thing-- we got a whole new crowd to the conversation. Because fish-- you have to be kind of geeky to get that. But feeding the world is something that everybody knows about.
I'm going to just dip into here for a second. Because what-- no I'm not. What we realized-- either I know it or I don't. And you all can fill in the spaces. So if right now we're doing something like 450-- if you could quantify it this way-- fish meals a day for the world, if we started harvesting and doing all of these things that we know how to do correctly and make all the world's fisheries sustainable, you could get it up to 750-- something like that.
I'm fudging a little bit. If you stop grinding up so much of it and making fish food pellets to feed pigs and other animals, you'd get up to about 1.1 billion fish meals a day, sustainably.
We also realized that it's more practical to do this than we thought. We went, oh I'm going to go back for this. We went for a-- we did a study to find out what countries buy bulk, had the most fish. So not just biodiversity, but how much did they pull out of the ocean.
And if you look at the top 10 countries, and you worked with them to make them sustainable, their fisheries, you would have worked with, maintained, 2/3 of the world's fisheries. If you did 25 countries, the top 25 countries, you'd be up to 90% of the world's fisheries. Nurseries would be intact.
So all of the sudden that becomes doable. Because you don't need an international new whoop-de-doo body that doesn't work to regulate the fisheries. You can go country-by-country. Because all of the world's coastal countries' fisheries are basically, mostly, in their own EEZ. It goes out 200 nautical miles. That's because of the continental shelf, or for whatever reasons that's where the most nutrients are. And that's where the nurseries are. And that's where most of the fishing takes place.
So you don't have to do an international thing. You can go country-by-country. And if you picked the top 10 countries that also have rule of law, so you can work with them-- top 10 countries, including the EU, because that's one body that manages the whole European fishery. So you'd get up to 1/3. So that's what we're doing.
Does anyone have any idea what the top 10 countries are? It's kind of interesting. Anybody? Let's play for one second. It'll give me a break. Come on. China-- number two. Peru-- number one. Oh, you're good. Japan-- number nine. Chile-- eight. No, Spain-- European Union.
Canada-- no, I think that's 11. India, yes, number seven. Russia, yes.
No, Norway-- close. And Indonesia. Indonesia. Those are the top 10 countries, by bulk. So all of the sudden your plan to get that 1.1 billion fish meals a day becomes more feasible. Because you go work with each country. You know what to do. You have scientific quotas. You stop bycatch. And you stop destroying the nurseries, the habitat. And fish will come back.
And there-- I'm bad at statistics. But there are many success stories about fish coming back when being left alone. Maybe not New England cod, one of the sad stories, but there are a lot of success stories. If you do the right thing, if set aside areas of no fishing, if you manage, like I said.
So then the other thing we realized was-- to make this argument even more persuasive-- was that by doing this, by rehabilitating the oceans and making the nurseries healthy, producing one billion fish meals a day, you also-- I just saw someone yawn, sorry. My five minutes are up. I'm talking fish again, damn it. Someone should have stopped me.
So wait, where was I? Oh, yeah, that the consequences for land are huge. Because you're not-- fish are the perfect protein. You're not using fresh water. If you eat a hamburger, it's 10,000 cups of water, they figure that went in to make that hamburger. So at a time when fresh water is a huge concern, fish are pretty good. You use just a little bit to process.
You're not cutting down a rainforest to plant grain, corn, wheat, to feed something, to make that protein. You're not putting out huge sums of methane. What comes out of the rear end of animals that we eat actually is a big driver of greenhouse gases.
I think one of the statistics was that the meat industry puts out the equivalent of one year of Russian greenhouse gases, whereas fish put out a day and a half of the equivalent. So it's massive, the difference, the benefits. Your doctors will be happy that you're eating fish.
So that's my story. There are so many things we can talk about. But I think it would be fun to-- and it'll stop me from rambling-- to open it up to Q&A so that we can talk about other things. We haven't talked about aquaculture-- fish farming. We haven't talked about public health. There are so many different ways.
Oceana as a campaign-oriented organization. We say we are going to do this. It'll take us five years. And this is-- please keep us honest. This is where your money's going. And then we do that. So to make those campaigns effective, we do whatever we have to to change policy.
So if people think what does this really have to do with me? The Bush administration EPA said one out of six women of child bearing years have too much mercury in their system to safely give birth to a child without the possibility of neurological-- possibility-- of neurological damage. One out of six-- that gets your attention.
How did that happen? Coal burning plants, or also in this country chlorine manufacturing plants, when they use mercury to make the chlorine molecule. So a lot of that escapes. So then it sifts in the air, it drifts down to the water. The little fish get it through their gills.
The bigger fish that we start to like to eat-- and by the time you get up to swordfish, you should not be eating it, period. Don't eat swordfish. Too much mercury in it. Tuna-- you're supposed to eat one albacore, one white albacore, tuna fish sandwich for you women and your kids. That's what you give to make your kids healthy. And yet it is now has so much mercury in it that it's not safe.
So all of the sudden you're getting people going well, wait a minute. And then you add to that fishing fraud-- sorry, seafood fraud. 30% of what we eat, according to the FBI, is not what it's said to be. They're fibbing, either at the supermarket or at the restaurant. So that irritates you that you're paying more for something that isn't what you thought it was. So we have a campaign around that.
But we're concerned about how do you manage a fishery if you have a lot of illegal fishing going on and mislabeling? You can't. So you use whatever you can in this campaign-oriented organization to get people's attention. But basically what we're always talking about is how do we make our oceans sustainable.
One last thing, then let's open it up. Not everybody feels like we should be eating tons of fish, like Sylvia Earle-- doesn't particularly like this save the ocean, feed the world. And she's a friend. And I adore her. I always think if I have one environmental joke when I'm doing a fundraising evening, then I'll be all right. And so I started the evening we were honoring Dr. Sylvia Earle. And we had had chicken. And I said next year we're going to have fish. Because our new motto is why save them if you can't eat them?
She wouldn't talk to me for months as a result of that. But this save the ocean, feed the world-- you do the same exact things if you're interested in biodiversity in our oceans. You will do the exact same thing. So to me it's a very persuasive argument. It's gotten-- I say this not as a look at us-- but we got $50 million from Bloomberg. Because the idea works. And it's timely and really, really necessary in the direction this planet is going.
Thank-- if I had read this speech, I would have been so bored. Thank you for letting me get up and wing it and get nervous, get lost, but at least be here. I will actually remember this. So thank you so much. But let's do Q&A.
Yeah, and don't be afraid to ask me anything. Because I'm an actor. And I don't know a lot of stuff. But there are people in the room that would-- Drew-- and I'll put you on the spot-- and probably lots of other people and lots of students here. So for the sake of conversation, ask anything you want. Yes? Yes, over there.
Can you talk about some of your successes?
Yeah, see, that's Drew's fault that she said we-- and I'm very bad at successes. Here, all right, bottom trawling-- working with the fishing councils on the West Coast we have put-- and the Mediterranean and often Chile-- we have put over a million square miles of ocean bottom off limits to trawlers. So that's huge.
We-- oh God, this is so bad. We went after chlorine plants and have shut down all but one. We have gotten-- Chile has turned around from being the Wild West, as far as their fishing management policies go, and now they have set aside one of the largest marine reserves in the world down in Chile, off around the Easter Island, I believe.
Sorry, I'm really bad at this. I should have a little piece of paper to give you all the-- but I'm safe. Because what you can do is go online. Seriously, go online to oceana.org. It's a wonderful website. And take a look.
I'm a modest actor. I don't remember all our successes. No, but there have been a huge amount. Bycatch-- OK, we worked very hard. Well, we got drift nets out of the Mediterranean. And it was very exciting. Because actually the mafia came after one of our boats.
Because they didn't like what we were doing. But drift nets are out of the-- except maybe part of Morocco-- are out of the Mediterranean because of the work that Oceana did. That's huge-- drift nets, everybody knows, the fish forever nets, indiscriminately.
We also got now the European Union is coming out with new fishing legislation which will have zero bycatch, none allowed. It will have no bottom trawling. And it will use scientific-based quotas. And they expect the fish population to expand by 40% in the Mediterranean. And that's in large part because of Oceana.
A lot of-- my wife said don't do that. It's annoying. So here I am doing that. Yeah, let's see. What else? Scientific quotas-- yeah, sorry go online. You'll get a much better answer than what I just gave you. But we've had a lot of successes in our 10, 12 year span. And yeah, check it out though, please. Yes? Sorry, over here, yes? I know what you're going to ask.
You're going to ask me about plastics, aren't you?
Yeah, I will say that again, actually. I first want to thank you for everything you've done. I think if more people did what you did we'd have a lot of things solved, or going on that direction. But anyway, yeah, I mentioned to you earlier about plastics.
That's a concern that's coming to light now. Because I eat fish. And amongst other things-- you eloquently described problems-- we're not hearing more about plastics, and also the BP oil spill. You had all these scientists say oh, we're investigating.
And so many years later we're not hearing anything about it. Same thing with Fukushima. And dolphins are dying. Fish are dying. The ecosystems are not being revived. But the scientists haven't come back to tell us what's going on. And I thank you for all the other points you made. They were very accurate. Thanks.
Yeah, yeah. I'll need help with some people. But my understanding is that all of the science is saying that Fukushima-- that the radiation-- is not having an impact, noticeable impact, on the fish. Oh, thanks man. You're like this friendly face I've been seeing all day. And you know so much more than I do. And you nodded yes. Thank you. A student, I love this.
So it doesn't mean it's no worry. But it doesn't seem to be having a huge impact on the world's fisheries. Plastic-- coastal pollution is tough. Because it's our everyday life. It's you and me going to the supermarket. It's us filling our cars up and turning the lights on. It's the whole way of our life.
So it's really hard to deal with coastal pollution. We're not into that. We're strictly into fisheries. I don't think anyone has come up with a solution for getting plastic out of the water column, out of the water. I know there are those huge gyros and everything.
I don't think anyone's come up with a way to get it out of the water. Certainly it's ridiculous that the plastic industry continues to make these bags that we all don't need. So stopping it at source is the best, or second best, thing you could do.
There was one more in there. What? Oil spill, yeah. Yeah, I'm not really totally up on this. But my understanding is a lot of the negotiation was here, we'll pay this. You stop all those studies. No more studies. Is that right? Does anyone know that? I'm pretty sure that that's basically the rule of the here, we'll give you all of these billions of dollars for our mistake.
I was talking to somebody the other day who's had a study for 30 years of peregrine falcons. And they've been taking blood samples. And they fly over the Gulf every year. And so they have blood samples going back 30 years. And their study wasn't part of this deal.
So hopefully they're going to come out with this. Because their blood is becoming more and more and more and more toxic because of what they're eating. And they can trace it. The DNA of the oil is what is the toxic in that bird. So it's proof. No, you don't clean up an oil spill.
You don't. You sink it to the bottom, maybe. Or you're lucky currents disperse it. But it's still in the water column. Which is what makes me crazy that President Obama-- I'm fan, but nevertheless-- I think he traded the pipeline for the Arctic Ocean, basically. Because he's allowing-- I'm not sure exactly what he's allowing, but opening up the drilling in the Arctic, which would be a huge mistake.
You can't clean it up. They've proven-- Shell has lost their rescue ship to bad weather and had to go-- so it's impossible. We couldn't clean it up in the Gulf. And we had all of the equipment, all of the rescue stuff, all of everything there in an easy climate to deal with. So it's crazy to open up coastal. And it has nothing to do with gas prices at the gas pump, at all.
From the web? Does this mean I've been--
Yes, we have a Twitter question.
I thought this was just a little private talk amongst us.
This one's from Frankie Fredericks, who has sent in five. So I've picked one. What can we do to address the issues of methyl mercury and PCBs in the fish rendered?
In the fish--
Meaning the fish that have been caught and we're about to eat? Is that what that means? I guess. Wait, does-- sorry, anybody want to help with that, what he means? What?
Fish meal. I'm Frankie.
I saw the thing. I thought meant it was close to texting.
Well lucky I didn't say hey, you know what, to hell with Frank. I'm not going to answer that. Stupid question.
I'll tell my dad I got to-- yeah, Ted Danson loved my question, yeah. I noticed a lot of this was about the volume of fish and not necessarily the quality. I texted it before you got to that endpoint where you talked a little bit about it. But I'm just wondering is there a hope for a technological advance? Or what are we looking at to deal with the quality of fish being rendered, not just the quantity? Is that clear?
Yes, yes it is. I don't know what you do about the bigger fish. It's too late. Sorry, don't eat swordfish. But the rule of thumb, when people ask, is what should we eat. You eat wild. You eat small. Wild, small, what else? Oh, shoot. Yeah, shellfish are good.
Not shrimp-- shrimp are horrible, because of the bycatch ratio. And it's like three to one in this country. I'm avoiding your question. Because I'm on a roll. But I'll come back to it. But yeah, eat shellfish, absolutely-- oysters, clams, all of those, the mussels. All of that are great to eat. And yeah, so sorry.
Your question-- do it again. Do your question again. I think the idea is to eat anchovies. Eat sardines. Eat the smaller fish that haven't had a chance to absorb that much mercury that it has an impact on you. Then you have to deal with it on land.
You have to-- we're not into the coal burning plants. But you're going to have to deal with that. You're going to have to deal with all of the reasons and ways that mercury gets into the system. So yeah, what we're talking about when we talk about this usually are smaller fish.
Yeah, I mean Peru is all anchovies. And it gets ground up to feed pigs and chicken. Yes?
Two-m part question-- first part is Oceana's take on fish performing, the pluses and minuses of that. It's very controversial. And the second part is can you still do that soft shoe bit you did in Body Heat?
You know I can. I just have the wrong shoes on. Otherwise I swear I would get up here and do the whole thing. Are you kidding? This is me walking across the street-- ouch, ooh, oh, that's not so bad. Ow, oh, ow.
Fish farming depends yeah-- we all thought that that was going to be the salvation. It depends on the fish that you're farming. Tuna, salmon-- they're carnivorous. So what happens is you catch sometimes three to five, depending on where you are, pounds of wild fish, grind it up into pellets, to make one pound of that salmon.
So here we're going what's the big deal? I can get a salmon anywhere I want. But in Chile, you go to the markets, the locals, and the fish are going woosh, like this. Because they're getting ground up to feed pigs, chickens, and tunas-- tuna farms-- and salmon farms.
So big problem-- they may be getting better at it in some places, they claim. But you have pens teeming with animals. So if you get a virus, which I learned about today, or something that could wipe them out, you don't want that. So you pour in the antibiotics.
And they're pouring in the antibiotics that we use in this country as the last defense antibiotic. So by the time the bug virus gets to us, it's like saw it in the salmon farm, buddy. So they do horrible things. So not good, not good.
Tilapia-- not bad, but it's like a chicken farm, basically, underwater, but better, by far better. Because you're not-- you're still cutting down rainforests to make wheat to feed and corn to feed the tilapia. But it's a neutral. You're not depleting the wild fisheries. Yeah? Yes?
And please, if anyone wants to-- a scientist or student wants to add something to these answers-- please do, so we all learn. Yes?
So I know the lecture's about sustainability. And I feel like sometimes--
Wait, oh, sorry, start again. Sorry.
So sometimes I feel like sustainability is just like a flash word. And I'm not really sure where the connection is to where saving the fish and then feeding the world is. So I'm just wondering what you and Oceana-- or what methods you guys endorse as far as sustainability goes, and what development you're investing in for the future, and what you think is going to be successful.
Sustainability to me means you're taking out less. Whatever you're taking out allows the population to keep growing. So you're never dipping down into an area of taking the fish that it could collapse. The reason you talk about sustainable is if you get a healthy fishery-- someone jump in here. I'm having the end of day thing.
But basically, thinking about the future is, for us, feeding the planet. Having sustainable fisheries means they haven't been fished out completely. And then the fishing company, or a ship, moves to another fishery and just wipes them out, which is what happens. So it means that you would be eating Atlantic cod forever, and loving it. Whereas right now you can't. It's making sure that-- yeah, is that clear? I'm sorry. Is that answering it kind of?
I'm wondering what methods Oceana's investing in to make this happen.
OK, so it's the three things. So you stop bottom trawling. In Belize we bought up all their bottom trawlers. And we said here, here's your money. You have to figure a way to it. Because a lot of times you're taking away people's livelihood. Excuse me.
But so we've stopped bottom trawling. All right, if for example we have a Navy, a Coast Guard, we can manage our fisheries, and do. And we chase people away that are not fishing by our rules and regulations. A lot of countries don't have that.
We're working with Google and an organization called SkyTruth. And Google has-- SkyTruth has the ability through satellites to look at every ship that is large enough to have one of those little beeper GPS, whatever they are, things going off by law they have to have. Google has the ability to absorb all of that in real time.
And you will be able to soon-- this isn't operational yet-- any country in the world will be able to download their coastal zone and see what the world's fishing fleets are doing. So all of the sudden, here's a no take zone that you've designated no fishing.
Because when you do that the fish rebound, if you leave them alone. So you see a little beep coming towards that. And then one of two things-- it'll either sail right through, at speed. OK, that's good. Or it'll start to meander, like that. They're fishing. Or they'll turn off their little beeper and then turn it back on.
You can meet them wherever they're going, if they're going to land their fish at your place, and say all right. We're impounding your-- you did something illegal. You're being fined. You're doing whatever. You can start to police the world through this new technology, which is exciting. I mean it's a start. So my question to you all would be what are you going to invent next? Because I do think technology will help us a lot in some of these problems.
I thought that was a really interesting example. Ted, it's Drew here.
Where have you been?
I was just looking at that specific example on Oceana's website. And I really loved it. They were just showing internationally normal fishing fleets. They're where they're supposed to be. And then all of the sudden one big boat sneaks into a marine protected area. And they nabbed him using that technology. So I thought that was interesting.
The question I wanted to ask you--
Drew. Et tu, Drew?
I really like the focus-- and I know you can answer this. I do like Oceana's focus on the top 10. And I've been really impressed in the last decade of the progress the United States actually has made in terms of managing and turning around-- I mean really incredible progress.
We have no fisheries now doing this. They're either rebounding or need to be brought up. But they're coming up. Or they're healthy.
So the question is then out of those top 10, who's the leader in developing positive fishery strategies that are starting to turn things around?
Are we, or--
No, we are really, really good. We do not over-- no, we do. We don't over subsidize, which is a huge driver in doing the wrong thing. And Congress-- Republicans and Democrats-- are all on board. Because they want an even playing field for our fisherman. Yeah, you're going to have trouble with China and Russia. But nevertheless, people are getting that if you don't do something about it, less and less fish.
Let me just end. Because this looks like an end.
First with a thank you, but also-- I'll answer your question on the way out, I promise. I see you. OK, you have to have a light heart to do this work, all of us. If you become overwhelmed and depressed, you'll either move on. You won't stick with it. Or you'll probably do something worse to it. I really think you need to be joyful. And you need to be hopeful. My new little motto to myself is and then we die. So why not?
So why not go for it? How wonderful that we have all of these incredibly dire problems to face. What a great thing to sink your teeth into, all you bright people. So have a ball. And save the oceans, feed the world.
Fantastic hour with Ted. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Thank you.
This has been a production of Cornell University, on the web at cornell.edu.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this request.
Ted Danson delivered the 2015 Iscol Lecture on April 20, sharing his personal transformation from actor to activist, and his passion for oceans. He explored the frightening threats to our oceans and celebrated recent success stories, including over a million square miles of ocean protected and the recovery of important commercial fisheries.