Ted Danson, Keith Addis and Oceana Save the Oceans
By Deborah Martin
Keith Addis swims with a giant whale shark
|A fisherman unloads a bluefin tuna in Malta|
|Addis prepares for a dive in Belize|
Your book talks about seafood fraud. What is it, and how does it affect everyone in the food chain—from the fisherman to the consumer ordering fish in a restaurant?
TD: Seafood fraud is the practice of misleading consumers about their seafood in order to make a profit. Sometimes cheaper, less desirable species are substituted for popular, more expensive species without consumers knowing. You might order swordfish and be served mako shark, for example. This undermines conservation efforts, hurts our wallets and poses potential health hazards. And it happens all the time. More than 80 percent of the seafood we eat in the US is imported, and only two percent is inspected by the FDA, so the potential for mislabeling is enormous. Oceana is advocating for rules that will require fish to be traceable from ship to consumer, so we can be sure of what we’re getting.
KA: Consumers should also know which fish are loaded with dangerous levels of mercury and other toxins, and which fish are on the edge of extinction, like some varieties of tuna.
How is Oceana raising awareness of seafood fraud among the general public?
TD: In May we released a new report called Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health, which is available at oceana.org. I’m also a fan of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guides, a wallet-size guide that tells you which fish are okay to eat and which we should avoid for health and conservation reasons. You may not think it’s cool to be that guy at a restaurant who is asking the waiter if the salmon is farmed or wild, and from the US or Chile, but it is. More often than not, I’m that guy.
KA: Soon we hope to have simple kits made available to concerned consumers so they can collect seafood samples from restaurants and grocery stores, which we can then analyze in labs to clearly determine how much fraud is taking place right in front of our eyes.
Does the fact that an ocean in crisis can appear—to the untrained eye—to be perfectly normal present a unique challenge in convincing people there is in fact a crisis?
TD: Without a doubt. We can go to the supermarket and get any fish we want, and the water still looks normal and peaceful. We are probably the last people in the world to notice a change in the seafood selection at the grocery store because we eat so much imported seafood. So we try to get people below the surface to see what is going on—that’s why it’s important to get educated.
KA: There are so many visible and emotionally gripping crises in the world today, like hunger, homelessness and poverty, and all require our serious attention. But you just can’t have a healthy planet without vigilant stewardship of our ocean resources.
What do you count as Oceana’s biggest successes so far?
TD: Oceana is an extremely effective organization—it’s amazing. The campaign-focused model Oceana has adopted is so impressive to me. We advocate policy changes and yield real, tangible results all over the world. I’m very proud to be a part of it. One of our most recent victories was the establishment of a huge marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean, the fourth-largest no-take reserve in the world. This area is brimming with incredible marine wildlife like sharks and whales, and now it will be protected.
KA: Commercial bottom trawling—the stripmining of the ocean floor—had been going on rapaciously for decades along our coastlines until Oceana led the battle to stop it. Now more then 150,000 square kilometers of that essential habitat will be permanently protected from total devastation that some marine biologists claim could have taken centuries for nature to repair.
Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them ends with the inspirational message “Never believe that one person is too small to make a difference.” What can ordinary people do to impact the health of our oceans?
TD: You can pledge to clean your local beach, call your representative in Congress or become a Wavemaker at oceana.org. My advice to people who are looking to help our oceans is to recognize this is tough work and we must come at it with a light heart. We have to connect with the ocean and remember why we love it so much before we take on these challenges. It’s the only way we stand a chance.
KA: We all need to understand quickly our oceans are not a bottomless pit into which we can continue to dump all of our plastic garbage and industrial and agricultural waste products. Whether or not you believe our climate is changing, it’s a fact that 22 million tons of carbon dioxide is being absorbed into the ocean every day, threatening to irreversibly change the fragile chemical balance upon which all life depends. We all need to do everything possible to lower our use of the fossil fuels responsible for this potential disaster.
photography courtesy of oceana; by jeff rotman/getty images (fisherman)