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Festival of Books: Ted Danson says, 'Save the fishies to save yourself'

May 2, 2011 |  9:00 am

At Sunday's Festival of Books, Ted Danson noted: "Some scientists believe that we could fish out our oceans within your children’s lifetime.” He added: “That’s not the most scientific statement, but hey I’m an actor.”

Actor he is, probably best known for his role as Sam Malone in the 1982-93 TV comedy "Cheers," but Danson also wrote “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.”  In his role as spokesman for the world’s oceans, Danson tapped into his acting talents to work the crowd -- bantering with moderator M.G. Lord about their footwear -- while also making big statements about the peril of our oceans: 90% of the world’s big fish have disappeared since he was a child, he said.

If "Oceana" seems like an abrupt foray into activism, Danson's been lobbying for the world's oceans for more than 25 years; he co-founded the American Oceans Campaign in 1987, which eventually became Oceana, a marine-focused organization in 2001, and serves on Oceana's board. 

His dad, an archaeologist, and mom, who “was on a spiritual quest,” taught Danson that “our time here is about our stewardship of what we have.” He felt guilty during his "Cheers" years, the “beastly, overpaid years,” because they were missing this sense of stewardship.

“If you’re going to talk about the environment, if you don’t talk about science and spirituality, you’re off base,” Danson said. “Science to make sure we’re on track … and spirituality because we’re all in this together.”

Though he calls himself “the shill in the front of the tent,” he’s working to redirect his celebrity, the attention focused upon him, to the team of scientists inside the tent. For a shill, he seemed to know what he’s talking about, offering statistics on the subsidizing of the world’s fishing fleets — $25 billion of an $85-billion industry comes from government subsidies, he says — as well as the massive machines responsible for most of this income.

Ten percent of the workforce catch only 10% of the fish in the world, he said. The other 10% "fish" on industrial tanker-like ships, 747-sized boats capable of gobbling up huge catches by trolling nets along wide swaths of the ocean’s floor, catching tons of fish while simultaneously destroying coral reefs and valuable fish habitats.

Since 1988, the world fish catch has gone down every year.

“Talking about fish is boring,” Danson said. “Let’s talk about jobs.” About the jobs that will be created by getting the industrial fishing boats off the water and replenishing the supply of fish to be caught by individuals.

“Let’s talk about health,” Danson said. He asserts that one-sixth of women in their child-bearing years have too much mercury (from eating fish) in their systems to safely conceive. “So, become an educated consumer, not to save the fishies, but to save yourself,” he said. 

But, he said: “Do it with a light heart.”

-- Megan Kimble

Photo: Ted Danson, left, and M.G. Lord. Credit: Megan Kimble