For many, it was ‘Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret’—the 2014 documentary that pulled back the curtain on large-scale factory farming—that turned them off meat. Now, a new Netflix documentary from the same team, ‘Seaspiracy’, may be set to do the same for seafood.
Directed and narrated by British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi, the film takes us on a whistlestop tour of our oceans, shining a light on everything from how important sharks and dolphins are to our ecosystems, to the hugely damaging effects that commercial fishing has on our planet (considering that up to 85 percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from our seas).
If you haven’t seen it yet, here are six eye-opening lessons from ‘Seaspiracy’ that may change the way you look at seafood forever.
1. ‘Bycatch’ is a huge issue in the fishing industry
Bycatch—fish and other marine species that are unintentionally caught when trying to catch another type of fish—is one major issue highlighted by the film (40 percent of global fishing catch is unused, wasted or not accounted for). Often, bycatch is thrown back into the sea—and while this may sound positive, these fish are unlikely to survive due to lack of oxygen or trauma.
Shocking statistics shown in the film suggest that 50 million sharks (much-maligned creatures that are essential to the preservation of our oceans) are caught annually as bycatch, while up to 10,000 dolphins are caught off the Atlantic coast of France every year alone as bycatch, according to Sea Shepherd, a nonprofit marine conservation group.
2. Sustainable fish certifications may not be all they seem
While eating sustainably caught fish seems like the right thing to do, Tabrizi shines a light on how the Dolphin Safe and the Marine Stewardship Council labels might not be able to provide the assurance that customers are looking for.
Asked in the film whether he could guarantee that every can of fish labelled ‘dolphin safe’ is actually dolphin-safe, Mark J Palmer from the Earth Island Institute—the organisation that manages the dolphin-safe label—said: “Nope. Nobody can. Once you’re out there in the ocean, how do you know what they’re doing? We have observers on board—observers can be bribed.”
Responding to the documentary, David Phillips, director of the International Marine Mammal Project of the Earth Island Institute, said in a statement: “The dolphin-safe tuna programme is responsible for the largest decline in dolphin deaths by tuna fishing vessels in history. Dolphin-kill levels have been reduced by more than 95 per cent, preventing the indiscriminate slaughter of more than 100,000 dolphins every year.”
A spokesperson for the Marine Stewardship Council added: “MSC-certified fisheries must adhere to our verifiable and science-based requirements, ensuring that fish stocks are conserved for future generations. The positive impact of our programme has been recognised by the United Nations, as being important in helping to support ocean biodiversity.”
3. Fish farms aren’t necessarily any better, either
Fish that have been farmed are also often considered more eco-friendly than wild fishing, as they’re not being taken from the wild population. But what you might not know is that some species of farmed fish are fed wild-caught fish, leading one expert in the documentary to call fish farming “wild fishing in disguise”. Not only that, but farmed salmon would actually be grey if it wasn’t fed a chemical in its food that gives it its famous pink colour.
Other problems shown in the documentary include lice infestations, with salmon pictured being eaten alive by sea lice parasites. In fact, millions of salmon are dying on salmon farms every year from diseases such as anaemia and heart disease.
4. Nets are a huge source of plastic pollution that’s rarely discussed
By now, we all know the damaging impact that single-use plastic has on our oceans. But did you know that only an estimated 0.03 percent of plastic pollution waste comes from straws? Although rarely discussed, fishing nets and equipment actually make up a significant amount of the plastic pollution in our oceans, too—including 46 per cent of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the north Pacific Ocean. It goes without saying that this is hugely damaging to sea life, which can easily get tangled up in the fishing nets.
5. ‘Blood shrimp’ are being caught using slave labour
You might have heard of blood diamonds, but environmental journalist George Monbiot says that ‘blood shrimp’ are now a huge concern—with horrifying reports of slave labour being used in Thailand to catch shrimp and prawns in the ocean. One former fisherman interviewed in the documentary described how he was abused and threatened at gunpoint, alleging that the dead bodies of others who were killed were kept in freezers on board their ship.
6. Reducing our fish consumption is the only way forward
All of this—plus the jaw-dropping estimate that we’re now catching up to 2.7 trillion fish a year, the equivalent to 5 million fish every minute—means that we need to seriously consider our consumption of fish and other seafood (less than one percent of our global oceans are protected from commercial fishing). Is it possible to continue consuming fish, both from an ethical and environmental perspective? Tabrizi certainly doesn’t think so.
‘Seaspiracy’ is streaming on Netflix now.