If you haven’t yet seen or heard of Seaspiracy, it’s a documentary just released on Netflix that gets to the bottom of what is really harming our oceans, the enormous scale of devastation and how it’s being ignored by the biggest environmental groups and our governments in a worldwide network of vested interests against doing anything to combat the problem.
Coincidentally I happen to know the filmmaker, Ali Tabrizi – he’s from my home town and has been involved in supporting some of the same good causes I have over the years, but that’s not the reason I’m supporting this documentary though it does give me insight into the creator’s integrity. Providing aid to refugees camped across the channel from us in northern France was something we did together and Ali’s conduct during those times demonstrated to me what an instinctively kind and genuinely caring, positive person he is.
That aside, the reason I’m full of support for this documentary is that its message couldn’t be more important. It’s not an easy message to hear, and at times the film will make you sad and angry, but it’s a message we can’t afford to not understand. Like a lot of people, before watching this film I knew that we were destroying the oceans, but I had a pretty limited understanding of the rate and extent of the destruction and how much of it was attributable to plastics in the water compared to ‘sustainable’ and ‘non-sustainable’ fishing. The film finally makes all that clear, revealing that commercial fishing is by far the single biggest threat to the oceans, and is in itself responsible for the majority of the secondary problem of plastic in the ocean. It also informs us that the rate of destruction is such that if current trends continue fish stocks are set to collapse by 2048, and that what is marketed as ‘sustainable’ fishing can’t stop the process. But well before we kill the last fish, once there are too few to balance the ecosystem, the oceans will become stagnant swamps that will render the air poisonous. Thankfully the film also shows what we can all do – all have to do – to stop the destruction before we make our own planet uninhabitable.
What I hope this post can can do, other than encourage everyone to watch Seaspiracy, is be another reference point for some of the key information and overall argument for what we need to do to save the seas, it might help you relay the info to other people or just be a reminder.
First of all, for anyone who thinks that wiping out close to all of the fish in the sea is impossible, just look at our track record.
What we’ve done in the last 50 years
Cod, halibut, bluefin tuna and haddock (fished directly) and thresher sharks, bull sharks, smooth hammerheads and scalloped hammerheads (killed as bycatch or from their own food sources being fished) have been reduced by between 80 and 99% of their 1970 populations.
Sea bird populations have dropped by 70%.
Large fish overall have dropped by 90%.
We have made 6 out of 7 turtle species threatened or endangered.
How has this happened?
The film explains that plastic in the sea is a problem, but that the vast majority of plastic debris in the ocean is discarded commercial fishing gear. The most discussed item of ocean pollution – plastic straws, account for only 0.03% of it.
Overall commercial fishing gear accounts for 70% of all the macro plastic in the sea.
But even if we were to immediately stop any more plastic entering the sea ever again, we would still be on path to wiping out ocean life very quickly.
About 1000 turtles a year are killed as a result of plastic in the ocean, 250,000 turtles are killed, captured or injured every year as bycatch in commercial fishing.
So not only is commercial fishing responsible for the majority of the plastic in the sea, but it’s directly killing far more animals than that plastic does, and is destroying habitats at an alarming rate.
2.7 trillion fish are pulled from the sea each year. That’s 5 million every minute.
300,000 dolphins, whales and porpoises are killed every year by fishing operations.
Fishing kills 30,000 sharks every hour.
3.9 billion acres of ocean floor are devastated by trawlers each year. Thats almost 4 and a half thousand football fields every minute – compared to 25 million acres of deforestation on land (27 football fields a minute).
Only 0.5% of the ocean is actually protected. Experts say we need at least 30 to avoid total decimation.
It seems commercial fishing is by far the big problem.
It seems fishing makes
On top of all this environmental destruction, Seaspiracy also examines human impact of the fishing industry. For example the recent trend of EU fishing vessels, having depleted their home waters, now venturing to the coast of West Africa. These EU fishing ships are causing loss of livelihood and food for West African people. I was glad to hear this practice being, in my opinion, rightly contextualised by Sea Shepherd as a continuation of historic European plunder in the region. It’s now being exploited by Chinese shipping as well while in East Africa the exploitation of Somalia’s inability to protect its waters from international fishing fleets decimating food sources after its civil war was one reason that piracy erupted in the western Indian Ocean. The film also reveals shocking human rights abuse caused by fishing companies under pressure to catch high quotas of fish from depleted seas for little money. Forced labour, torture and murder in East Asia is the result of cheap shrimp and fish on the world market.
One of the most shocking demonstrations of fishing’s devastating impacts was what the film had to say about the deep water horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the biggest spill in history and one of the most reported environmental catastrophes. The oil in the water meant that fishing couldn’t take place in certain areas for fear of contamination, so the Gulf of Mexico oil spill actually allowed marine life to replenish while fishing was temporarily banned. In all the months that it lasted, less wildlife was killed by the entire spill and its aftermath than would have been in a single day of fishing in the area. What we do to the seas every day is so bad that the oil spill was a net positive for wildlife.
Much of the environmental science in the film is explained by marine scientist Professor Callum Roberts and Mission Blue founder and oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle. Ali also talks to environmental social scientist Professor Christina Hicks, author George Monbiot, Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd and a host of other important voices among researchers, writers, activists, as well as whalers and fishermen, to paint a picture of the current state of affairs.
With the science pointing to such a catastrophic future, the obvious question is –
What can we do about it?
The film looks at what most of the biggest environmental organisations and our governments are advising us which is to choose ‘sustainable fish.’
Ali talks to EU fisheries lawmakers, environmental charity Oceana, the Plastic Pollution Coalition and ‘dolphin safe’ labelling agencies, but they admit that
there’s no single agreed definition of ‘sustainability’ for fisheries and guaranteeing ‘sustainable’ or ‘dolphin safe’ commercial fishing is impossible, meaning that consumers can’t make informed decisions.
That’s made even more worrying when reports come from Sea Shepherd revealing that they’ve seen boats working for companies with ‘dolphin safe’ labels killing 45 dolphins to get 8 tuna in Europe.
But given these problems, and given the fact that all accept commercial fishing is the biggest threat to the seas, environmental/conservation giants and government officials won’t explain why they advise to buy indefinable, unverifiable ‘sustainable’ fish, and will never recommend simply reducing or eliminating fish consumption all together.
It’s hardly surprising when…
Environmental organisations are funded by, or projects of, the same companies who issue the sustainable or dolphin safe labels.
Sustainable and welfare labelling agencies can receive up to 80% of their revenue from selling the labels to fishing companies. Even if it were possible, it wouldn’t be in their interests to properly investigate whether the companies they sell labels to really meet requirements.
‘Sustainable’ fishing is shown to be a marketing ploy, feel-good business, and a distraction that keeps the status quo in tact while placating increasing environmental concern among consumers.
We need to dramatically reduce the amount of commercial fishing carried out across the world if we want to have any hope of sustaining life on this planet, and fast.
Governments are reluctant to make the radical changes that are required to get us off the path to destruction. It’s too late to wait for that to change, or to beg for it. The power to change the trajectory is in our own hands, if we just stop buying fish.
Although I don’t eat fish anyway, simply because I don’t like the idea of hurting anyone – including animals – I’m joining in with the ‘Seaspiracy pledges’ I see people are making in response to the film. My personal pledges are that I’m going to make more of an effort to reduce indirect contributions to the fishing industry that I know I’m making – I’ve bought seaweed and other things from companies whose main business is fishing which I don’t feel good about. I’m going to spread the information I’ve just outlined above, and I’m going to protest the 35billion dollar subsidies that are made to the fishing industry with our taxes.
Stay informed and get involved – visit seaspiracy.org for more
A final good thing about the film I want to finish with is that it responded to some of the most well known abuses of the ocean that are often reported on with a lot of sensationalism and even racist or xenophobic undertones. For example, the Japanese Taiji dolphin slaughter and the Faroe island whale hunts. While both of these are of course condemned, it’s pointed out that ten times more dolphins are killed each year off the coast of France than in Taiji, and that as cruel as the Faroe island slaughters are, we cause more destruction and cruelty in every day choices as consumers. By comparison, the Faroe horror is more ‘sustainable’ and claims less lives than many other forms of fish and meat eating. This leads to the question of whether sustainability is even the right goal. Even if fishing or whaling could ever be done sustainably, is it fair to cause these creatures to be crushed to death and suffocated in nets, pierced with hooks and sliced up alive? The film responds with a scientific discussion of how far fish feel pain and emotion. It reminded me of a book I read called ‘Your Inner Fish’ by Neil Shubin which made similar points about how many features of our own bodies developed in fish ancestors millions of years ago. Our own capacity for touch and pain can be traced in the same way. Not only do fish feel pain and emotion, they enabled us to – we owe everything to them, so shouldn’t we treat them better?