‘The oceans will run out of fish by 2048’: this message was doing the rounds a few years ago and still pops up on WhatsApp forwards. Though the original authors themselves accepted the error and updated the data, the scourge continues. In Netflix’s new documentary Seaspiracy , this is a message displayed in big bold Scorsese red letters accompanied by dramatic music.
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The 90-minute documentary by filmmaker Ali Tabrizi starts out as a nature documentary trying to understand whale stranding, but soon turns into a journey uncovering the effects of the commercial fishing industry. With hidden cameras and filming in dangerous locations, the documentary tries to expose the illegal fishing markets which have a deeper, hidden system of corruption, slavery and fraud, involving the big industry names and government backup. Seaspiracy travels from Asia to Europe to the U.K making new revelations about the industry while maintaining a sense of urgency.
Though it is presented as a piece of investigative journalism, the documentary does spread misinformation, and has now been panned by experts and even the participants of the film.
The key issue addressed is sustainable fishing and repeatedly emphasising that it is impossible. The Marine Stewardship Council, an independent non-profit organisation that sets a standard for sustainable fishing, released a lengthy response to the documentary explaining how fish stocks can be, “well-managed and sustainable... more productive in the long-term, meaning there is more seafood for our growing global population.”
While talking about the problem of plastic in our oceans, the documentary says that 46 per cent is from plastic fishing nets. It misreads the information from a 2018 paper that said at least 46 per cent of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was composed of fishing nets. Of course plastic in our ocean is a problem, but the presentation and lack of understanding of basic science is a major flaw.
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Filmmaker Ali Tabrizi also requests people to stop eating fish and switch to plant-based products. Countering this, Ray Hilborn, Professor at the School of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Washington released a video where he says that Seaspiracy, “is not a documentary but a propaganda film made by vegan activists.” He explains that many fisheries have been sustainably managed for thousands of years, and that fisheries are an important part of food security and employment for many.
Many participants have also accused the documentary of misrepresentation. Mark Palmer, the associate U.S. director of the International Marine Mammal Project told The Guardian that the film took his statement out of context. The organisation also released a statement on the documentary.
Meanwhile, Twitter users have highlighted the racist and xenophobic undertones of the film: Asian bad guys, brown/black victims, and white do-gooders.
Billions of people rely on seafood for their primary source of protein, and the fishing industry plays an important role in the livelihoods of millions of people. Now let’s imagine (hypothetically) that all the claims made by the film are true, and you want to stop commercial fishing and force everyone to rely on plants. How and where would you grow them, and how do you enrich them with proteins? Wake me up when there is a documentary called Plantspiracy.
Seaspiracy is currently streaming on Netflix