No cheers for fishing subsidies as Ted Danson heads to the Hill

It might not be the "Cheers" bar, but everyone is still sure to know his name when actor Ted Danson appears before the Senate Finance Committee this week.

Danson, famous for his role as Sam Malone on the long-running television series "Cheers," is scheduled to testify Wednesday at a hearing on fishing and international trade. A longtime advocate for marine conservation, Danson will be representing Oceana and is expected to call for the United States to use international trade negotiations to press other nations to repeal fishing subsidies.

The International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness Subcommittee will look at "marine wealth" and options to support and advance U.S. seafood exports. The hearing is intended to explore how U.S. fish and seafood producers can compete in global markets and promote ocean conservation, according to the committee.

At issue are fishing practices that have come under fire: foreign government subsidies and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has concluded that the vast majority of the world's wild fish stocks either are being overexploited or have reached their maximum productive capacity as fishing fleets have expanded and moved into previously untapped regions of the seas.


IUU fishing happens all over the world in areas with spotty regulation, especially where resources are not available to effectively police the area. Such fishing contributes to habitat destruction and harmful bycatch and hurts legitimate fishers by diminishing harvest opportunities.

Environmentalists also blame fishing subsidies -- especially those for equipment, boats or fuel -- as part of the problem fueling intensified fishing. Some scientists have said that global overfishing and other destructive practices could permanently damage the ocean ecosystem unless the World Trade Organization works to reduce worldwide subsidies in the fishing sector.

U.S. fishing fleets receive few subsidies, but China, Japan, India, Brazil and Denmark all offer various fishing subsidies.

New limits on international fishing subsidies are on the table in the ongoing Doha round of WTO talks.

Prohibitions on many fishing subsidies were included as a part of draft trade rules that WTO Rules Group Chairman Guillermo Valles released in late 2007. Various countries, including the United States, have also offered their own proposals to prohibit some subsidies. International negotiators have been working for the past two years on issues identified in a WTO "roadmap" for fisheries trade issues.

Some have called for more flexibility for developing countries. Oceans advocates say any exemptions for poorer nations should also include safeguards to protect resources that may not be overexploited now but could be in the future.

Danson is expected to ask lawmakers and the Obama administration to press for a broad prohibition of fisheries subsidies -- with any allowed subsidies still subject to WTO review and disciplines.

The 62-year-old actor has been advocating for ocean conservation for more than 20 years. He first became interested in marine conservation during his years on "Cheers," according to Oceana, when he saw beach closures in Santa Monica, Calif., due to pollution. Danson later joined an effort to try to prevent digging for oil wells in Santa Monica and helped create the American Oceans Campaign in 1987, which eventually became Oceana in 2001.

He currently sits on Oceana's board of directors and has testified on Capitol Hill before on behalf of the group.

Schedule: The hearing is July 14 at 3 p.m. in 215 Dirksen.

Witnesses: Ted Danson; David Schorr from World Wildlife Fund; Rod Moore of the West Coast Seafood Processors; Tom Bastoni of American Pride Seafoods; Eric Schwaab, assistant administrator for fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Mark Linscott, assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Environment and Natural Resources.

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