‘Seaspiracy’, a documentary directed by Ali Tabrizi, provoked deep thought and controversy amongst all its viewers. Both an insightful and disturbing film, Tabrizi divulges the ins and outs of the fishing industry, which is far more brutal than the beautiful cod fillet on your plate indicates. He visited several fisheries and filmed their operation, revealing what really goes on in some of the largest corporations in the world.
Tabrizi set out to film a documentary because of his love for marine wildlife. But, as he explored and made discoveries, it rapidly became more about the environmental concerns surrounding the marine ecosystems and the harm that humans have done. He began to research about plastics, and where they go. He found that the number of microplastics1 outnumber the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy by 500 times! These microplastics are ingested by fish and other wildlife, and can be extremely harmful. Additionally, another aspect which harms marine wildlife is the garbage that has ended up in the seas and oceans. He calculated that, approximately, 150 billion kilograms of garbage are in the seas, which poses a significant threat to marine life. This is because the waste pollutes marine habitats, through leaching of toxic substances, and also exposes marine life to the threat of consuming the waste itself.
This is just one of many factors that have contributed to the damage to marine ecosystems. It is particularly pertinent as he quickly discovered that the contributions of marine wildlife to rehabiliting ecosystems are underestimated; 85% of all oxygen comes from phytoplankton2. Phytoplankton also capture 4 times more CO2 than the entire Amazon Rainforest combined.
One particularly striking segment from the beginning of the film is about shark finning3, and how the fisherman subsequently discards the carcass. This is illegal in most countries as it is often performed while the animal is still alive and sentient. Since just 50 years ago, shark populations have declined by 99%. Sharks are an integral component of the marine ecosystem, being apex predators. This decline has, therefore, caused severe disruption to the natural food web and has had a great top-down impact on all marine life. Tabrizi quickly understood that there was a lot more to uncover.
Another extremely significant issue which is not publicised, or very well known to be an issue, is that of bycatch. Each year, 70 billion pounds of fish are caught unintentionally, accounting for 40% of all fish caught. This has played a huge role in decimating marine populations. Populations of key commercial species are down by 90%. Bycatch seems like an innocent mishap which can be rectified by throwing them back in, but in fact, this is not the case. Even if the fishermen wanted to, they couldn’t return live fish to the ocean. This is because the scale of commercial fishing is so big that they could not sort through all their catch in time to determine what is to keep and what is to put back. Therefore, they just keep it and take it all.
Sometimes we are told that fishing is practiced sustainably and while respecting the environment. You might think that labels on tins and cans are reputable and that if they say something is environmentally friendly, it is environmentally friendly. If you do think that, I urge you to watch this documentary, as you would be severely mistaken and shocked by what you see. Unfortunately, the practices of large fisheries indicate that they do not care as much as they claim. This is because there is so much money in the industry that they are willing to deal such damage to the oceans and seas. Due to their nature of being strongly directed by financial motivations, not only are they willing to sell their certifications and labels (which assure the customer that the product has been sourced and produced without harming dolphins, sharks, or rare species), but they do so rather liberally and without much hesitation. A representative of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) admitted that inspectors (that are supposed to be on fisheries to check if they really are dolphin-safe) are rarely there, and when they are, they often accept bribes. Because of this, Professor Callum Roberts 4 stated that ‘the label on the tin isn’t worth a damn!’. Seaspiracy claims that most big corporations involved in fishing, like the MSC, Unilever, and Earth Island, are culprits of this and are responsible for the destruction of our marine ecosystems and wildlife.
Tabrizi then starts to unravel the issue of corruption in this industry. The fishing industry is rife with lies, unfriendly practices, and maltreatment of workers. Innocent victims are coerced to work for fisheries, and are subsequently abused, exploited, and murdered. If they fail to comply, this renders them and their families at risk of serious harm or even murder. ‘Boys were dropped into the sea’ recounts a distraught ex-worker. Attempted suicide is also very common, and the same worker explains that ‘he tried to take his own life three times’. On my initial watching of this, the gravity of these events overwhelmed me, as it would anyone. It became clear to me that the consumer does not see even the tip of the iceberg. It is beyond saddening that human lives are avoidably lost over the fish that reaches our plates.
All in all, this documentary reveals some of the harshest truths about what has really been going on, and the violations that have been occurring; both of humans and their rights but principally of our oceans. Professionals in this field – acclaimed (aquatic) environmentalists – are interviewed and make it unequivocally obvious that we need to start making serious changes. “It’s so obvious. It’s just shouting in our faces” said George Monbiot, a respected and established journalist and environmentalist. It has been in the media for years that proper changes need to be made, and yet this has not been seen. Monbiot calls out corporations for being solely financially motivated and states that they are “deliberately not engaging with the most important issue of all”. Amongst those interviewed are some of the most advanced marine biologists. Sylvia Earle, being one of the leading figures in this field, on being asked to comment on Tabrizi and his crew’s discoveries, stated that “sustainable fishing…just doesn’t exist”. However, it is notable that those criticised – the beneficiaries of the fishing industry – strongly deny Tabrizi’s allegations, responding that his statistics were “erroneous” and that he made “misleading claims”. Regardless, the video evidence in the documentary shows this industry is doing extreme harm to our ecosystems. Permanent damage has been dealt. The introduction of laws, the formulation and implementation of concrete regulations, and the imposition of serious sanctions must occur urgently. If not, and if we continue on our current trajectory, our oceans will be virtually empty by 2048. Let’s contextualise; most F blockers will not yet be 40 by then. To summarise, in the words of Monbiot: “how much more obvious does it need to be?!”