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Oceana Magazine Summer 2009: The Author, the Actor and the Sea

Oceana board member Ted Danson provides the voiceover for the new film "The End of Line," based on journalist Charles Clover's book exposing the overfishing crisis facing the oceans. Despite their mutual interest in ocean conservation, the Brit and the Californian had never met - until Oceana arranged a transcontinental phone call in June just after the U.S. premiere of the film.

Ted Danson:  I was so impressed with the film. I thought it turned out really well, and it is astounding how well it fits with Oceana's agenda. How long ago did you first literally decide to pick up pen and paper and start this journey?

Charles Clover: I tried to sell the idea of a book on the collapse of world fisheries in 1996. But I was unable to place it with publishers for the kind of advance that meant I could write it. They said, "Oh, what an interesting subject, nobody's done that, have they? No. We don't think it's very commercial. Nice book but we don't think it's worth our while to pay for it." And I said, "Thanks very much but no thanks." And waited until about 2003 until somebody hunted me down, by which time it had all changed. So that's how it really happened.

By the mid ‘90s, we were all beginning at last to understand what was happening, what had happened to the northern cod. It wasn't really reported properly at the time. Some of these really important things never get reported in the papers and you know, '96 was I think, just before a general election here and the government had really let go of the reins and there was the most rampant overfishing, illegal fishing, black cod, black everything, black fish landings, in the U.K. and I did a huge scoop on that. But I had been following fishing for a long time before that. I could see things were pretty bad.

TD People ask me this all the time: Do you remember the person, the moment, the little bit of knowledge, that first piqued your interest to get you involved?

CC Yes, I do! I walked into the wrong press conference in The Hague in 1990, when I had been highly skeptical as a reporter of all the reporting
about the pollution in the sea. It was in Dutch, which didn't help, and I remember the slides on the screen.

It was sufficiently comprehensible for me to realize this was really interesting. I think there must have been a graph up on the screen or something, a slide of trawling, and it was the first time that I'd ever seen the description of what a beam trawler does to the bed of the ocean.

How did you get involved in this thing?

TD For me, it was probably moving into a neighborhood in Santa Monica, California that was involved with a local fight to keep Occidental Petroleum from digging oil wells right down the coast, on the beach, into the bay. I met a man named Robert Sulnick, who was an environmental lawyer, and we were successful - and we thought, how can we continue to defend the oceans?

It was very naive and slightly presumptuous, and Cheers was paying a lot of money so I could afford to hire him. American Oceans Campaign is what we named the fledging organization. It started off as basically a no-oil organization, but then we worked on coastal pollution as well, and we would go back and forth to Washington.

When you see something is based on ignorance, when you see what's happening to the ocean and you see that it doesn't have to be that way - that if we were good stewards, if we were good businessmen, if we did the common sense thing, this wouldn't have to happen, and when you realize that your children won't necessarily get to have the right to go fish and eat fish and enjoy the ocean like we all did for centuries, that really irritates me.

CC That's a very good way of putting it. The thing I suppose that got me interested in it was just that, partly it was journalistic hunger for a story I knew must be true from my own experience because I'm a fisherman.

And I watched all the freshwater fish get in to trouble, and I knew that the migratory fish that I was also catching like salmon and sea trout were in trouble. I knew that part of the story was in the sea, so I couldn't believe that all the rest of the other species weren't in trouble, too. And people said, "Oh no, they're all being nicely managed by the scientists." I suppose it is part of my nature not to believe that.

TD What kind of reception has "The End of the Line" met so far in the U.K.?

CC The movie's being seen in the light of Al Gore's film because it is that kind of film, an independent film made on a small budget because you couldn't make it anywhere else. Nobody, no wildlife filmmaker would employ you to make this film because it introduces the hand of man.

But in the Daily Mail, suddenly, out of nowhere, no recognition for this issue whatsoever in Britain, we get a headline on the Op-Ed page: "Should We  Stop Eating Fish? That's the question raised by new film which claims many species face extinction.

Eco-scaremongering or the unappetizing truth?" In a funny sort of sense, I thought, "Oh, that's probably it." Because Europe is so bad at this business of managing fisheries. It is really our Achilles heel. So we needed to make this film to wake Europe up, to an extent, but it's also a global issue, like "An Inconvenient Truth" was about climate.

TD Wow, this has been an amazing conversation for me and really a pleasure to have a little one-on-one time with you. I was so impressed with "The End of the Line" and I think it really tells the story in a very compelling and complete way. My hat is off to you. I was thrilled to be part of it.

CC Likewise to you, because I've been studying your CNN interview for pointers on how you get the stuff out really quickly, because I haven't been doing that for the last week or two and I've just been trying to boil it down. I thought, "This guy, Ted Danson, he's just said every single thing in a very, very short interview." I'm impressed. [Your narration] lifted it to a different level. We badly needed someone to give it that sort of global feel.

TD Charles, I hope to see you face to face someday in London, that would be really special.

CC A beer would be a very nice idea.

 

The End of the Line: Where have all the fish gone?

Charles Clover’s book-turned-documentary has been called “investigative journalism at its best” by the New Scientist. Taking a global look at overfishing, the film includes scenes from Alaska to Senegal. Clover appears in the film along with Dr. Daniel Pauly, world-renowned fisheries scientist and Oceana board member. “The End of the Line” screens in theaters this summer across the United States. Visit endoftheline.com for more information.