Seaspiracy: a Catalyst For Change Or a Misinformed Effort?
Seaspiracy was one of those documentaries where you inevitably avoid watching it for as long as possible, partly because the topics it discusses weigh so heavy, and partly because, well, I think we all already knew that the fishing industry was having a detrimental impact on our environment. It is like being told not to look at the sun because it hurts your eyes, but then you do anyway, and you feel both bruised from the light and gratified for having your expectations confirmed.
Released at the end of March in 2021, it has already managed to cause a stir on social media and online, with hundreds of articles doing the fact-checking for us. Some of those who have been interviewed for the documentary have said that their comments have been taken out of context, the statistics used are misleading, and the film oversimplifies a complex issue. I think that perhaps some of these things are true; there is no mention of how the fishing industry is an integral part of some communities livelihood, and the film presents an overall message of ‘never eat fish again’ if we want to change an industry which made approximately $240 billion dollars in 2017.
I don’t know how helpful this is. We are living in a world that feels as though it is becoming increasingly polarised, and, if the introduction of mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic is anything to go by, people usually don’t appreciate being told what to do. It seemed as though Ali Tabrizi, the British filmmaker behind Seaspiracy, favoured sensationalism over thorough journalism, and this shows. Despite him having the resources, time, and funding to hold the fishing industry under a microscope, the documentary doesn’t offer us a critical lens, and after its ending, we are left wondering where we can go from here.
This being said, Seaspiracy is worthy of credit where credit is due. It covers a wide array of issues considering its run time is around 90 minutes, from modern slavery, human rights abuses, overfishing, climate change, to pollution. It also is presented in a very accessible, easy format, which makes it a great introduction to those who are interested in learning more about marine welfare. I also think that it doesn’t shy away from asking big corporations difficult questions. So often, we have been told to stop using plastic straws and walk, instead of drive, to prevent climate change. These things are true, in a sense, but they divert the attention away from the role that mass corporations play in climate change and put it onto us. If 20 companies are responsible for a third of all carbon emissions, and 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, then what difference is it going to make whether I pop to the shop in the car or whether I walk?
Seaspiracy highlights just how important the ocean is to our environment, and how devastating the impact of overfishing is on natural wildlife. Without the ocean, we would not be able to sustain ourselves, both physically and socioeconomically- where it provides us with over half the oxygen we breathe, it also offers us employment and global trade. Exploitation and greed have driven the industry into corruption, but this doesn’t mean that sustainable fishing can’t exist. Thousands of indigenous communities along the coast all around the world rely on fishing as a way to trade, eat, and celebrate their culture.
There absolutely needs to be greater regulations around fishing, and I don’t dispute that we need to reduce our intake of fish and look at more sustainable options, but a blanket ban seems to avoid the true source of the problem- the industrialised fishing industry and those behind it. As Greenpeace say on their website, “It is industrialised fishing that’s the true evil here, not traditional harvesters taking what they need to feed their family.”
Seaspiracy is important because it has started a wide discussion about a difficult subject. Although there is controversy around the credibility of the facts that they use in the documentary, controversy breeds conversation, and I think we all need to be more aware of where our food comes from. Do we need to stop eating fish entirely? No, but it’s important to consider the power we have as a consumer to demand higher standards and thorough regulations. The industrialised fishing industry is, by nature, unlikely to ever be free from corruption- but this doesn’t mean that all fishing is bad and we are being lied to at every corner, which I think is the message that Seaspiracy can be interpreted as pushing. What I think would be more constructive, is if we place pressure on global corporations to do better and increase awareness amongst ourselves on where our food is coming from and the true cost of it.