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The following is a conversation between Andy Sharpless, CEO of Oceana, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.
Denver: One of the expressions used to console a buddy who’s lost a girlfriend or boyfriend is to tell them not to be too down because “there are plenty of fish in the sea.” Unfortunately in recent years, that expression is a little less true than it once was due to things like overfishing. But my next guest believes that this is a solvable problem if we just follow a sound and sensible course of action. He is Andy Sharpless, the CEO of Oceana. Good evening, Andy, and welcome to The Business of Giving!
Andy: Hi, Denver! Good to be here.
Denver: What is the mission of Oceana and what does the organization consider its job to be?
Andy: Oceana’s job is to put more fish in the sea so that we can eat them. Now, you laughed, and that’s the right way. I once was on a show like this, about to go live nationwide, and a gal came over to me like the minute before we were to go on TV, and she said, “This doesn’t make any sense, Andy. You’re trying to put more fish in the sea so that we can eat them? Please explain that to me.”
Denver: There you go! Well, I think it’s nice and it’s beautiful in its simplicity. Well, the period of peak fishing supply was around, say about 1990s – 1995, 1996. What has happened, Andy, since then that has depleted it so, where many of the world’s fisheries are on the verge of collapse?
Andy: So this is an interesting thing. You’ve all heard of peak oil; your listeners have heard of peak oil. Well, we’ve had peak fish, just like you said. Peak fish happened in the early- to mid-1990s, so meaning that the total catch in weight of the world’s fishing fleets– just added up– has been in decline after having grown basically for all of human history, for as far back as you could look. Is this because the fishing fleets aren’t fishing so hard? Is this because technology has retrograded? Is this because maybe the fish have gotten smarter, and they can’t get caught anymore? No. Of course not! It’s because despite all the additional effort, more boats, more technology, we can’t catch the fish. And that’s proof positive that we’ve overfished the ocean.
Denver: Now, when you look at the major fisheries around the world, perhaps measured as you suggested by global catch weight, in what countries are they concentrated?
Andy: One of the really interesting things is, as is true with lots of phenomenon in the world, 80% of the problem is concentrated with 20% of the actors. And in this case, it’s even more concentrated. So we made a list at Oceana of the countries whose oceans are most productive or most important to the world’s ocean by the weight of the catch that they provide. And it turns out that if you take just the top 10 countries on that list – there are nine countries in the European Union – you get more than two-thirds of the world’s catch coming from those countries. And if you go to the top 29 countries in the European Union, you get more than 90% of the world’s catch. Now, your listeners will say, “Wait a minute. He slipped in the European Union there. That sounds like a trick!” Because you and I know that the European Union is now 28, soon to be 27.
And that’s not a trick because when the European Union was formed, one of the things that they centralized– that they put in Brussels’ hands– was fish. So, from the point of view of managing fisheries, Europe is a country.
Denver: Got you. And your focus really is on countries. A lot of people would think “Oh, you must be going to the international federations, international bodies,” but that’s not the right strategy.
Andy: Exactly right. It’s a country-by-country approach, and this is one of the things that really gives us confidence that we can do what we say we’re doing. And you’re right; it’s a bit of surprise. When you look at oceans, a map of the worlds for example, the oceans look like an international place. And so now, you’re imagining “Oh my God! We’re going to have to go to the United Nations, and we’re going to have to have an international agreement…” and as we can see from climate change and other such efforts, those projects are often destined to fail, sadly.
Denver: Takes forever at least.
Andy: They take forever at least. I hate to say this so bluntly, but it feels to me like a lot of international negotiations involve a committee of countries negotiating forever about the lowest common denominator outcome, and then agreeing not to enforce that. That’s the way—
Denver: No teeth!
Andy: So if we had to save the oceans through an international process, I would not be here talking because I’m too practical a person; it would drive me crazy. The thing that we realized is that you can take a country-by-country approach because coastal countries have exclusive control of their ocean – exclusive control of their ocean out to 200 nautical miles, which is 231 statute miles. It’s a long way out.
So, for example, nobody—and this happened in the 1980s—nobody fishes for fish that you can see off the American coast, unless they’re fishing under American laws and rules. We don’t negotiate with the Chinese on that; we get to set our own rules. We don’t even negotiate with the Canadians on that. It’s like our ocean; we get to set the rules. If we want it to be abundant, we can make it abundant. No international negotiation required. Same thing is true for China. If they want their ocean to be abundant, they don’t have to negotiate with us. Same thing is true for Canada, and so forth and so on.
So that list that I was talking about of the top 28 countries in the European Union, we can go to them country-by-country and say, “You know what? It’s in your self-interest to make your ocean abundant, and you don’t have to negotiate with anybody else to do that. You can pass the law, you can set the rules, you can enforce them. And then guess what? You’ll have a whole lot of fish in your ocean. Your fleet can catch them; you can sell them; you can make money from them, and you can feed a lot of people.”
Denver: And I gather from what you’re saying, this is where most of the fish are – by these coastal waters, not deep out in the sea.
Andy: Yes. That’s correct, Denver. And that is also counterintuitive. Most of the glamorous fish—it’s a little bit of a contradiction in terms, but there are such things. Glamorous fish. What are they? Tuna, very glamorous. Sharks, very glamorous. Big whales, very glamorous. Dolphins, quite glamorous. Turtles, kind of glamorous. I hope I haven’t revealed too much geekery in my own view of the world, but I think average people can think that those are interesting fish.
What is characteristic of those big fish? They are predators, just like lions and tigers are really glamorous to us. They’re big predators. So the lions and tigers of the ocean, just like the lions and tigers of the land, roam big distances. They’re big predators; they roam, and so they make the mistake. They have the misjudgement to go out into the international zone of the oceans, which is that zone beyond 200 nautical miles. The technical word for it is the high seas. And when you’re in the high seas, you are in trouble because you are in the free fire zone of the ocean where anybody basically—
Denver: Anything goes.
Andy: Anything goes. Anybody who wants to catch you can catch you. Formally, there’s supposed to be some rules, but they aren’t really enforced, and they’re not really very tight. And so you’re in big trouble if you’re a big fish that likes to go in.
So we hear story after story about what’s happening to those animals, and it’s a bad thing, and it’s hard to fix. That obscures the really good news that the less glamorous animals– the rabbits, if you will, of the ocean– staying in the coastal zone the whole time. And there’s a lot of wonderful creatures that deserve to be protected and, by the way, a lot of them… they taste good to eat. And so we can feed a lot of people, feed a hungry world without solving the international management problem. It should be solved, but you don’t have to wait for it to be solved to get stuff done for the oceans.
It’s not like climate change. This is really important. Climate change is an international problem. It’s a common atmosphere. It blows around the world every day. So people who worry about how a country-by-country approach to climate change have a reasonable point – not true about the oceans.
Denver: And sticking to these coastal waters for a minute, how many people’s livelihoods depend upon fishing?
Andy: There are several estimates of this. If you count people who have seafood in their diet as a substantial part of their diet, you can get to two- or three billion people. If you count poor people, hungry people who live on the coast, you can get to hundreds of millions of people who are entirely dependent on fish. If you count people for whom, ask the question: “Animal protein is…?” Fish is the chief animal protein you get, you can get to like a billion. So you have a lot of people who need ocean fish in their diet…or they’re going to suffer.
Overfishing is pretty easy to fix as a technical matter. You set and enforce scientific quotas; you protect nursery and spawning areas, and you reduce what’s called bycatch. You do those three things, and you will get an abundant ocean, and you will get it faster than you can possibly believe.
Denver: Well, let’s pick up where we started, and that is: Over the course of the last 20 years or so, the global catch weight – the number of fish we’re taking from the ocean – has been dropping. You have put forth a three-step program that you think if we follow, can address this problem and do it fairly quickly. The first is to stop overfishing. How in the world do we do that?
Andy: Overfishing is pretty easy to fix as a technical matter. You set and enforce scientific quotas; you protect nursery and spawning areas, and you reduce what’s called bycatch. You do those three things, and you will get an abundant ocean, and you will get it faster than you can possibly believe.
Why do I think that’s practical? Because of what we’ve already talked about. A country—take the United States—can pass a law. It did do that. Our fishery law is called the Magnuson-Stevens Act. It was passed in 2000 and then strengthened again in 2006. And guess what it does? It mandates that you set scientific quotas, that you rebuild your fisheries if you’ve overfished them. It protects what’s called essential fish habitat, and it reduces bycatch. And guess what? Since the year 2000, all of the metrics on our own fisheries are getting better, and we’ve seen a 15-, 16-year period of rebuilding and more abundance and real progress measured by fish in the water in the American ocean.
Denver: You know, I’m sure you saw that story in the New York Times just about a month or so ago, or even less, and it was about China. And what China had done is that they pretty much have depleted their fish stock in their coastal waters, and now they’ve created this armada of distant water fishing vessels, I think they said 2,600 of them. Some of them are five or six stories high, and they’re heading towards Western Africa. And they are just having a devastating impact on countries like Senegal. Tell us what is happening there, and what, if anything, can be done about it?
Andy: China is one of the world’s most important fishing countries. It’s number one or number two. And depending upon whether you’re talking about an El Niño year, in some years, if you count its domestic… its catch from its own waters, plus its catch from international waters, plus its illegal catch from West African territories, it can get to 12% or 13% of the world’s wild fish catch by weight. So it’s a huge actor and a huge consumer of fish.
So China has an outside impact on the world’s ocean, as it does in so many areas of the world right now. What are we going to do about that? Well, there are two or three things. Number one—I want to re-emphasize the point we’ve already talked about—you do not need to solve the Chinese problem to have an abundant ocean in much of the world.
Denver: It’s not a deal breaker.
Andy: It’s definitely not. The American ocean can be completely abundant because, guess what? The American Coast Guard will make sure there’s no Chinese fishing in our ocean unless they’re under our supervision and our rules. The Chileans can do the same thing. The Peruvians can do the same thing. The Canadians can do…every country in the world that has a coast and has a productive ocean doesn’t need to allow the Chinese fishing. And they won’t, and they will not, and they do not.
So we can make enormous progress, absent cooperation from the Chinese. What does that leave vulnerable though? It leaves the fish, the high sea zones, very vulnerable to Chinese overfishing, and it leaves weak countries or corrupt countries—there are some in West Africa that are examples of that—very vulnerable because the Chinese come in, and they fish either illegally or they buy the right to fish through corrupt actions.
So what are you going to do about that harder problem to solve? What we have done, in partnership with Google and with SkyTruth, is launch Global Fishing Watch. This is a big step toward dealing with the Chinese problem, which is, by the way, it’s not only China that has distant water boats.
Denver: No, I’m sure it’s not.
Andy: The Spanish fish the hell out of the world’s oceans. There are some other big, international fleets. The Japanese, the Koreans, the Russians even. So there’s people with fleets all over the world. You can in fact see this if you go to globalfishingwatch.org. What globalfishingwatch.org does is something the world has never done before. It makes visible to anybody with an internet connection for free a nearly real-time view of more than 35,000 of the world’s largest commercial fishing vessels as they fish, with a historical record of everywhere that they fished, everywhere that they’ve been. You can zoom in on a place you’re interested in. You can zoom all the way down in and find out names of individual vessels and follow them and where they’ve been… and what their flag state is… and what their identifiers are.
This is a big step toward making the Chinese fleet accountable for what it’s doing. So it’s not going to be invisible anymore that they’re fishing the hell out of West Africa because you can go to Global Fishing Watch and see it. And it would make it possible, for example, if you were an honest West African… Let’s say you’re a journalist in West Africa and you were hearing, as any such journalist would hear, reports from the small African fishermen that the fish are gone. Why are the fish gone? Because the big Chinese trollers have taken them. You would be able to go to your local government with the information on Global Fishing Watch and say, like “What’s going on here?” They can’t hide anymore. So, it’s a big step forward.
…it’s fish that have been killed in the course of fishing for something and not sold, not brought, not landed, not sold, not used, not eaten…basically just wasted. Nobody knows exactly how much there is. But people estimate it could be anywhere from 10% to 25% of the total killing that the fleets do on a global basis.
Denver: It sure is. That’s the kind of transparency we really need in these waters… no pun intended. You mentioned a second ago, and this was your second thing, is to minimize bycatch. Say a word or two – what is bycatch? And what fish are most impacted by it?
Andy: Bycatch is a technical term, and I apologize for using it. It’s the accidental killing of the non-target species. Accidental isn’t really even a correct term. It’s the killing of the fish that are in your net that you’re not going to sell. If you drag a net through the water, which is what a troller does, or especially if you’re fishing for something small…What’s something small that people like to eat? Oh, shrimp – appropriately named, very small. So therefore, you have to have a net with very small holes. Therefore you catch everything else along with the shrimp.
American shrimp fisheries, which are going to be amongst the best managed in the world, catch four- to five pounds of non-shrimp for every pound of shrimp. Imagine…so it’s dumped all off on deck, and the shrimp fisherman sorts out the shrimp from everything else, and in many cases discards at sea, dead and dying, all of the non-shrimp. That’s the bycatch.
So it’s fish that have been killed in the course of fishing for something and not sold, not brought, not landed, not sold, not used, not eaten…basically just wasted. It’s hard to estimate because, of course, much of it is not measured because it’s discarded at sea. So nobody knows exactly how much there is, but people estimate it could be anywhere from 10% to 25% of the total killing that the fleets do on a global basis.
We have fished the ocean for so long that in some cases we do not even understand how abundant it could be. And we underestimate the opportunity that we will gain by putting in place these three basic things: quotas, habitat, and bycatch protections.
Denver: Well, they say we waste 40% of our food that’s produced on land, so we have 10%, 25%. So there’s a lot just going down the drain. The final thing is to protect the habitat. What are some of the things being done here, and those that Oceana is advocating for?
Andy: This is, in some ways, the simplest thing to understand, and it’s to create ocean parks and to create zones where you restrict fishing activity… or in some cases prohibit fishing activities so that you get a fully-abundant and rebuilt place. You can think of it as a fish bank because the fish will become very abundant in that place, and that does a number of things. Some of those fish will then swim out, and they can be caught when they leave the park. It will also show you, the scientists, and everybody else how good “good” is. We have fished the ocean for so long that in some cases we do not even understand how abundant it could be. And we underestimate the opportunity that we will gain by putting in place these three basic things: quotas, habitat, and bycatch protections.
So, create ocean parks. They’re called typically marine-protected areas. If you want to sound really smart, you will call them by their acronym, MPAs, but it will be better to call them marine parks and everybody would understand what we’re talking about.
Denver: Good idea.
Andy: And there has been some real big progress on that in the last, again, 15 or so years. People will celebrate that President Bush and then President Obama together created the largest fully-protected ocean area in the world, second only really to the Ross Sea, which is an international zone that was created down in the South… but just recently.
But at worst case, the second; in some cases, I think it’s the first because it’s all in American water…so it will really be protected. The Ross Sea is international, so it was going to be subject to some of those difficulties you talked about. The largest, fully-protected area……President Bush started it, President Obama expanded it using his authority under national monuments. It’s around the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, and these are uninhabited, remote islands. It’s going to be a spectacular place, and it’s going to show a lot of good stuff, and it’s going to create a lot of fish that will swim out, and people can catch and eat.
By the way, it is one of the decisions that President Obama made that President Trump has announced he will review. And so we are worried that President Trump will revoke that decision. And then there’s a similar but much smaller protected area off the coast of New England. It’s a canyon off the coast of New England. And because it’s a canyon, it has lots of nooks and crannies where baby fish grow up and becomes a real fish bank to feed ocean abundance elsewhere. That was also protected by Obama, and that is also being reviewed by the Trump administration. And we are very worried that they will take that protection back.
I love this about ocean conservation…I think it is the biggest problem that the world has that (a) it can fix, and (b) it can know it fixed. It can measure the results of it. We don’t have to believe in some model’s estimate that long after I’m dead, we’ll have done this thing. You can know it…
Denver: I bet. Well, you know, if you take a look at how these fisheries have been depleted, and let’s say, instituting this three-step program, intuitively, I would think this is going to take many, many, many a year to try to have them recover. But that isn’t the case. It can happen remarkably quickly. How does that happen? And give us a couple of examples where it has happened.
Andy: Fish are an incredibly fertile and robust part of nature. They lay eggs; many species will lay eggs by the millions, and they are capable of producing rebounds in 10 years. You can have a full rebound—depends on the species—but many species will deliver a full rebound to what’s called maximum sustainable yield– the maximum level of abundance that you want if you’re going to fish them— in about a 10-year period. Some even a little faster, some a little bit longer.
How does that happen? I more or less explained it. Because they lay eggs by the millions, and they’re just like: give them a little bit of help; give them a little bit of support – quotas, habitat and bycatch – and you can see results.
What are the results or examples? There are many around the world. Haddock have come back. Arctic Cod have come back. Japanese snow crab have come back. There are many examples—
Denver: Norwegian Herring?
Andy: Norwegian Herring have come back. Many of these were badly overfished, badly depleted. Finally, governments put in place some or all of the measures we’ve talked about – scientific quotas, habitat protection and bycatch – and the fish rebounded. It is one of the great, satisfying things to do. Most conservation projects, terrestrial projects…you want to rebuild a rainforest? You’re not going to be around to see the results. It’s going to be more than a hundred year project. This thing, saving the oceans, rebuilding the oceans, you can hope, you can believe that you will see measurable success in your lifetime sometimes in 10 or 15 years, and we’re having success stories.
I love this about ocean conservation, but I think it is the biggest problem that the world has that (a) it can fix, and (b) it can know it fixed. It can measure the results of it. We don’t have to believe in some model’s estimate that long after I’m dead, we’ll have done this thing. You can know it, and I love that about this.
Denver: Well, we live in an instant gratification society. It is about as close as you can get. And, you know, one of the proposed solutions, which taking a closer look at seems to make an awful lot of sense, is fish farming for things like salmon and tuna. But upon further inspection, that just might not be the case. What’s the problem with fish farming?
Andy: Very intuitive, but wrong idea. Fish farming falls into three categories: good, bad, and indifferent – green, red, and yellow. What determines which category you’re in? What the fish that you’re farming eats. So think about this for a second. What’s a commonly farmed fish that you, Denver, have probably eaten in the last week or two that lots of Americans eat?
Andy: Salmon. Exactly. What does salmon eat? Salmon are a carnivore. They eat meat. They eat fish. They’re like a cat. Think of them as a cat, not as a cow. So when you farm salmon, you need to feed them wild ocean fish. So that’s what salmon farmers do. They catch wild; they buy fish meal– which looks like dog food but smells like fish, and is ground up wild fish. And in the process, you take four pounds of wild fish that you and I could be eating, and you convert it into one pound of farm fish. So you reduce the total amount of healthy—
Denver: That’s a negative direction!
Andy: Exactly! In the wrong direction. You take four pounds of healthy marine fish, and you convert into one pound of farm fish. And by the way, you have equity impacts because those fish that you’re feeding would be cheaper than the salmon per pound. They would be therefore more likely to be eaten by working class people, poor people, regular people. The farm salmon is going to be flown north and fed to a rich American or a rich European or a rich Japanese person. And, by the way, it’s going to underprice your good, honest American wild salmon fisherman… who, by the way, is doing a good job right now. The wild American Alaskan salmon fishery is a good fishery– well-managed, pretty abundant, and it’s twice as expensive as the farm salmon. But that’s a fish. If you want to eat salmon, you should pay for the American wild salmon.
Andy Sharpless and Denver Frederick at the AM970 The Answer Studio
Denver: Got you. One of your major undertakings to address this entire issue is a partnership that you have with an organization called Rare, and with Encourage Capital. And this is being funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies with a focus on a couple of key countries. Tell us about Vibrant Oceans Initiative and the impact that you’re seeing from it.
Andy: Bloomberg challenged us about three years ago in a way that was really helpful to our strategic thinking. He came to us and said, “I’m thinking about doing ocean conservation, but I’m not going to do it unless you can deliver a measurement for me, a consistent measurement on what you’re getting done.” And he asked us to think about it the same way they thought about the battle against tobacco. And Bloomberg, as you know, has funded a lot of battles to stop people from smoking. And he measures the results of all, and a lot of that is through policy advocacy – tax cigarettes, make it hard for children to buy them and so forth and so on. He measures the results of that by lives saved – people still living because they didn’t get addicted to cigarettes. So he asked us, “Can you do the same for fish?” And my first answer was “Absolutely not. I don’t know how to do that.”
Denver: Where do I go?
Andy: Yes. I mean, we’ll have a turtle campaign and a whale campaign and so forth, and I don’t know how to add three turtles equals one whale… equals four reefs… equals a shark. And so, then I went away and thought about it and said, “Wait a minute. There is a way to do this,” and that’s to measure the food value of a rebuilt ocean, and that gives us a consistent measure of what we’re achieving for Mayor Bloomberg.
So we went back to him with that idea. He said, “I love it. I’ll fund you to go to the Philippines and to Brazil and to win policy changes in those countries that will put more fish in those oceans.” And we’ve been doing that in partnership with Rare and Encourage Capital for the last three years. We just had a board meeting about two weeks ago in the offices here in New York of Bloomberg Philanthropies and reported very directly back to our funders there on our progress. We’ll have a big five-year initial grant, five-year period. So we’re going to come up to a real test in about a year or so on whether he’s happy with what we’re doing. But I think we’re going to have a really nice success story to talk about.
Denver: Well, congratulations to you because it really is a brilliant metric. It encapsulates everything. It encapsulates the environment because you’re going to have more fish with a healthier ocean and everything else that goes along with it. And for somebody like me who’s kind of like, “Well, boy, you can relate to the number of meals that are being served.” So it really touches every single person in a way that is accessible.
Andy: Well, thank you. The number, I should make sure that your audience knows the number. We estimate that by 2050, if we do our job well and the world rebuilt its ocean—the top 30 countries, most of them did a good job—more than a billion people every day could either have this seafood meal and do that forever. Unfortunately, we’re headed for about half that number by 2050 because of the decline that started in the 1990s. So there’s a delta there, there’s a difference of 500 million meals a day for the world—
Denver: And a projected two billion more people by 2050, when they think we’re going to be up to nine billion people. So, it’s really an issue.
Andy: Right. So we’re at just under 800 million hungry people right now at a population of seven billion worldwide. We’re headed for 9 billion, 9.5 billion– there’s various estimates, by 2050. That’s two Chinas more people than we have now. How are we going to feed all these people?
Denver: That’s a lot.
Andy: In fact, I have a story to tell. You asked about the Chinese fleet. About 10 years ago, I was in Geneva to lobby the World Trade Organization to set rules forbidding government subsidies of commercial fishing. One of the reasons that we overfish is that many countries hand money over to their commercial fleets to buy boats, buy gear, buy fuel, buy bait. And as a result, there’s whole lot of fishing that’s not even really for fishing. It’s fishing for subsidies. It’s kind of crazy, really. You’re taking tax dollars and using it to overfish the ocean.
How do you fix that? You get all the countries of the world to agree simultaneously that it violates their trade rules, just like they do in other areas – textiles, steel and so forth. And I met with the Chinese ambassador Mr. Liu, and I said to him, “You don’t want to be subsidizing the fleet, do you, to overfish the world’s ocean because that would really be bad. We’d like your support for an agreement here to make sure that fishing is done without subsidies.” And he said, “You know, we have a billion people to feed. The West has been fishing really hard for a long time. We’re going to take our turn.” And in the 10 years since, in that article of the New York Times that you’ve mentioned, they have subsidized the creation of a colossal fleet. And so, it’s a big problem.
I took from that conversation that we were failing to emphasize the food value of a rebuilt ocean that the Chinese ambassador didn’t understand. Actually, he was putting the food resource at risk by that subsidy program. And so we actually launched the program that we called “Save the Oceans, Feed the World” to try to make it clear that we’re not just turtle huggers. I mean, I think people have a stereotype, that I’m in here “Hug the starving child; Hug the turtle… Which is it that you want to do?” Most people want to hug the starving child. I’m sorry about the turtle, but I’m not going to hug the turtle if I can’t hug the child. And I’m here to tell you if you care about that starving child…
Denver: Feed the hungry child!
Andy: Yes, feed the hungry child with a rebuilt ocean, which, by the way, will be good for the turtle.
Denver: Yes. That, too. And talking about that, you wrote a book a few years ago entitled The Perfect Protein. Why do you say that fish is the perfect protein?
Andy: There are so many benefits to rebuilding an ocean that go beyond feeding a hungry world, and I’m going to call out four of them. What happens when you rebuild the ocean and start feeding a billion people every day? Well, first of all, you feed a lot of people. Let’s not forget about that. Number two, you help with climate change. How can that be? A really big driver of climate change is methane emissions from livestock. Both ends of your basic cow will emit, because it’s a ruminant, methane gas.
Methane gas is an intense driver of climate change. In the year 2050, you would like people to be eating a whole lot of fish because when they’re eating fish, they’re not eating hamburgers. And if they’re not eating hamburgers, that means they’re not driving climate change. So, a really good lever on climate change is make sure you have an abundant ocean. Number three, biodiversity protection on the land is helped if you have an abundant ocean. How can that be? The biggest driver of biodiversity loss on the land is what?
Denver: Arable land.
Andy: Agriculture. Exactly. You have to cut down the varied biodiverse place– the forest– and you plant a cornfield or a soybean field, or you make it range land, and you radically simplify the habitat on the land, and you eliminate a lot of different kinds of life. Livestock production is the most intensive form of agriculture, whether you’re doing it through a feed lock or through range lands. So, you want to minimize the future’s call for livestock. What’s the best way to do that? Make sure there’s a lot of wild fish to eat because, again, if you’re eating a fish sandwich, you’re not eating hamburgers.
So look at that. So we’ve got three big things – we’re feeding a billion people, we’re helping with climate change, and we’re helping protect biodiversity on the land. And I haven’t even gotten to the other two, and I’ll tell you them real quickly, Denver – aquifer protection, freshwater supplies are depleting. A lot of that goes into irrigation of crops, fewer crops to feed livestock you’ve helped, and then lastly, your audience will guess it. They’re screaming it out already – human health.
Your doctor has been telling you, she has, Denver – stop eating so much red meat. Please switch to healthy fish, and you will see less obesity, less heart disease. You will see less cancer. It’s all in the medical literature. This is proven medical evidence.
Denver: It’s exactly what she said. And it just seems like everything we’re doing on land is at tension with one another. Whereas in the sea, it’s all in harmony. The environment works with the production of food. It’s all in sync.
Andy: It could be. It’s not the way we’re doing it right now, but it absolutely could be. And what percent of the surface of the planet is covered by ocean? Seventy percent. Because we don’t live in the ocean…. It’s not a place where there’s a direct head-to-head conflict between human needs and the needs of the ocean.
Denver: Andy, talk to us a little bit about different kinds of fish, the ones that are in shortest supply, the kind of fish you would like to see on more menus, and maybe the ones we should really feel guilty about eating.
Andy: So the simple rules…I want to give you some simple rules because this can get complicated real fast, and people are too busy. So eat wild, small fish. That’s the simple one-sentence rule. Eat wild small fish. By small fish, I mean fish that are still small when they’re adults. So eat the rabbits of the ocean, not the lions and tigers of the ocean. What’s an example? Sardine, anchovy, herring. These are classic rabbits. Small fish, very abundant. What’s a classic lion or tiger? We already mentioned them – swordfish, tuna, and so forth. So simple rule: eat lower down on the food chain, and eat wild fish instead of farmed fish for the reasons we’ve talked about. Now, there are a couple of other exceptions. If you’re eating farmed, there is one category of farm fish that your audience can eat and feel so virtuous. And that is the farmed clam, oyster, or mussel. Basically shellfish like that.
Denver: Eat all you want.
Andy: Eat all that you want, and feel so good about yourself because if you’re farming those things, those things filter the water so they don’t eat anything that we want to eat. And they actually make the ocean cleaner. And those farmers are business people who will be strong opponents of ocean pollution because you can’t farm clams in a polluted ocean. The way the world works, your local businessman who hates a polluter is a good ally to have in the battle against pollution. So we love those guys, and we want you to eat as much farmed shellfish as you can possibly eat.
And then I would be careful, if you can, be careful about imported stuff. We have done tests at Oceana of whether the fish that you buy is correctly labeled. And about a third of the fish that we’ve tested, and we have now tested more fish than anybody in the history of America– more than a thousand fish– more than 30% of the time, it’s not correctly labeled. And the Americans are slowly tightening the rules on seafood traceability and trackability. So your American swordfish is not guaranteed to be honest, but more likely to be honestly labeled than your foreign fish.
Denver: Let me ask you about one last big fish, and that’s shark. I think you wrote an article recently about “dead or alive.” Tell us a little bit about the stories of shark.
Andy: Sharks are under intense and dire stress right now. Seventy-three million sharks a year are killed chiefly for what? Their fins. Shark fin soup, chiefly served in China and in Hong Kong, is a culturally very prestigious meal. And as hundreds of millions of people have moved into the middle class in China, the demand for shark fin soup has skyrocketed. Sharks, unlike the other fish that we talked about, do not reproduce quickly. They give birth to live babies. They’re like mammals. They give birth to small numbers of live babies at a time. So they do not reproduce quickly. If you’re killing 73 million sharks a year, you are likely overfishing sharks, and all the evidence shows that that’s what happened. Shark populations are down a single digit percentage of what they were in the 1970s.
So we’re at a desperate place for sharks, and they need to be protected. How are we going to do that? Well, the key step would be—the final goal here is to get China to ban the sale of shark fin soup. And we are taking a big step here in the United States toward that outcome. Eleven states have now passed state laws banning the sale of shark fin soup. That just happened in the last two years. New York is one of them, California is one of them, Texas is one of them – there’s a bipartisan blue-red state mix of state shark fin bans.
And we and the Humane Society have just worked together to have introduced into Congress– in both the Senate and the House of this Congress, the newly-elected Congress– bills to ban the sale of shark fin soup nationally in the United States of America. The bill has bipartisan support in the Senate. One of the lead sponsors is Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Your audience will recognize that that represents a fairly wide, ideologic span.
Denver: You’re right on that one.
Andy: This suggests to us that this bill can get through this Congress. And we’ll get through this, and we’re committed to getting that done this year or next before the end of this Congress. That will send a very good message to the world. We want shark fin soup to be felt like elephant ivory is now, like rhino horns are, like tiger penises are. You don’t sell these in honest commerce. You just don’t because you can see that it’s destroying an important part of life on the planet. So we think we can get there, and this will be a big step forward.
Denver: And sharks are big business. I tell you, the way people are renting boats and going out to sea…there’s a lot of commerce that’s going to be hurt, in addition to the humane aspects of this.
Andy: Right. And scuba diving. We’ve done a study that in Florida… One of the few senators who is hesitant about this represents the state of Florida where there’s some American sharkers. And we’ve interviewed the scuba diving outfits up and down the coast of Florida to prove that the sheer business value of the diver business, going to look at sharks, far exceeds the value of the dead sharks that are being—
Denver: and all the fin soup of the world!
Andy: Correct. One of the wonderful things your audience could do right now is to contact their senator, their congressman, and tell them that they want the act to pass, to ban shark trade in the United States of America and to get that bill through this Congress. People need to speak up now and get this bill passed.
Denver: Andy, let me ask you a little bit about your organization, Oceana, the kind of team that you have built, and the kind of corporate culture and work environment you have looked to create?
Andy: So we’re 15 years old, and we were founded by a very hardheaded group of five very business-like foundations, and I could name them if you want me to. But these are people… foundations that knew a lot about the collapse of oceans and were so frustrated that the governments of the world were not responding– that the big conservation groups were not responding– and they told us that they would fund us but on the condition that we delivered results in short time periods.
So what do they mean by results? They mean national policy changes that are won…that are actually won. And in three- to five-year periods, deadlines of three to five years from when we start what we call a campaign to win that policy outcome. So, it’s a very practical organization where we give ourselves very concrete goals. We know who the decision maker is that we have to get to move. We give ourselves a deadline to get there, and we hold ourselves accountable on a win-loss basis. And we report back to our board and to our funders – we got it, we didn’t get it, we got half of it – and we own up to where we are. We’re different. I have to contrast us with a lot of NGOs which make two mistakes in my opinion. Number one, they work on things.
Denver: No A for effort.
Andy: Well, I say: What do you do? Well, we work on this. Well, when do you want to get it done? Well, we’re working on it. Eventually… and there’s not a deadline-oriented culture. Number two, they spread themselves too thin. They do, out of having good hearts, but being bad managers.
Denver: They don’t stay focused.
Andy: They don’t stay focused, and they can’t say no—there’s a million good things you can do for the oceans, and they say “yes” to everything. And therefore, they do just enough to lose on everything. That’s not an effective strategy. You have to be willing to look at a list, and you and I could come up with the list of 25 things that would be good for the oceans, and we have to force ourselves to say no to 22 of them, and pick 3. And pick 3 that will matter, and then give ourselves a deadline, and then land on them hard. Put resources into them, and win, damn it. You know what I mean? And so that approach is what we do. We don’t always win, but we’re accountable and honest about where we are and what our record is, and we’ve been able to get a lot of victories.
Denver: A results-oriented culture. Let me close with this, Andy. World Ocean Day is coming up pretty soon. It’s going to be on June 8. What’s your message to people for that day? And what actions, in addition to the one you’ve given us, would you like to see them take?
Andy: I think that the most concrete thing you can do in the United States of America is one or two or three things. Number one, help pass the shark fin trade ban. Number two, stand up to President Trump’s possible revocation of the big protected area around the northwest Hawaiian Islands and the protected area, a smaller one, off the coast of New England. These are important and good things that President Obama did that President Trump is considering undoing. And he should be told that they, that he should continue to protect the ocean and stand up for those. They also had the support of President Bush. These are bipartisan things, and they deserve to be protected. And then the third thing is just to make sure that the basic fishery law is not changed. A bill has been introduced in this Congress to weaken the core fishery law in the United States of America. It’s called the Magnusen-Stevens Act, and you should let your congress person know that you do not want any changes made to the basic laws that protect the American ocean.
I’m sad to say, there have been bills introduced to do that. If you want a fourth one, there should be no expanded ocean oil drilling. It’s hard to believe after DeepWater Horizon, what we saw happen on the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It’s hard to believe that anybody would propose expanded ocean oil drilling. But guess who’s considering it! President Trump. This does not make sense. It’s not good for the ocean. It’s not good for ocean-dependent coastal businesses, tourism businesses, restaurant businesses. We have 120 resolutions up and down the East Coast from businesses and towns and communities that depend on a healthy ocean, that they don’t want ocean oil drilling off their coast. We’re worried that the Atlantic and the Arctic and the Pacific are now all up for grabs.
Denver: Well, Andy Sharpless, the Chief Executive Officer of Oceana, I want to thank you so much for being here this evening. This is an incredibly important story, and I think people are going to want to know more about it. Where can they go to get some additional information about these issues and about your organization?
Andy: As you would expect… on the internet, on the web. You can get lots of information about Oceana. If you go to Google and search us, you’ll find our website. You can join our organization, and we’ll barrage you with things you can do to help us; we’ll occasionally solicit you for money if you want to do that. We have a group of several million people. We call them wave makers, and most of them are just activists. Some of them are donors We’re very happy for their support. I hope people will come to our website and find out about us. Go to Global Fishing Watch as I said earlier, globalfishingwatch.org, and learn about the global fishing fleets of the world.
Denver: Well, thanks Andy. It was a real pleasure to have you on the program.
Andy: My pleasure. Thank you.
Andy Sharpless and Denver Frederick
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