After receiving many recommendations from friends, I watched the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy. British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi uses the one and a half hour documentary to enlighten viewers of a raft of harrowing truths about the seafood industry.
Finding 1: The war on the straw
Ali quickly dismantled the impact of the famous campaign against the plastic straw , confirming straws only represent 0.03% of ocean pollution. This doesn’t mean we should go back to using plastic straws, instead he highlights a bigger fish to fry – fishing nets.
Fishing nets are a huge contributor to plastic pollution in the ocean. It is estimated that 640,000 tons enter the ocean every year, equivalent in weight to more than 50 thousand double-decker buses. They are also responsible for ~85% of the plastic found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and ~10% of the overall plastic found in our oceans.
Once in the ocean, these nets and lines can pose a threat to wildlife for decades, ensnaring (and inevitably killing) everything from small fish, crustaceans ,endangered turtles, seabirds, sharks and even whales. They are also responsible for damaging habitats and are a key contributor to microplastic pollution.
Poor regulation and slow political progress in creating ocean sanctuaries enable and allow these problems to exist and persist. Without regulation there is a lack of ownership or accountability. Additionally, clean-up of fishing gear is costly and complex providing minimal incentive for fishing fleets to rectify the problems they cause.
Finding 2: The detrimental impact of bycatch from commercial fishing
When fishing vessels go to sea, they go after their so-called “target” catch such as Tuna. Unfortunately most fishing gear is unselective therefore catching millions of tons of other marine life, commonly known as bycatch. Bycatch is generally thrown back into the sea, however these animals are unlikely to survive due to lack of oxygen or trauma. Bycatch contributes to the killing of up to 100 million sharks, and an additional 300,000 Dolphins, Whales and Porpoises every year. 
Although there are efforts to address bycatch on commercial fishing boats through adaptation of fishing equipment, there are no methods that guarantee 100% safety of non-targeted marine species.
“The health of our oceans cannot be restored and fisheries sustainably managed if 40% of the global fishing catch is unused or unmanaged,” says James P. Leape, Director General, WWF International.
Finding 3: Sustainable certifications are not so sustainable
“90% of the world’s large fish have been wiped out by fishing”
While eating sustainably caught fish seems like the right thing to do, Ali 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.
When 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 Organisation — replied: “Nope. Nobody can. Once you’re out there in the ocean, how do you know what they’re doing? We have observers onboard — observers can be bribed.” Hardly an assuring statement.
Greenpeace New Zealand is currently circulating a petition calling for government legislation requiring cameras on all commercial fishing boats to ensure sustainable fishing practices are monitored.
Finding 4: Fish-farms more like fish hell
Fish farms have been advertised as the sustainable alternative to commercial fishing. However, further investigation found that the industry is rife with welfare problems.
In fish farms, large numbers of fish are confined in a small area. Salmon, while around 75cm long, can be given the space equivalent of just a bathtub of water each. Overcrowded fish are more susceptible to disease and suffer more stress, aggression, and physical injuries such as fin damage. Along with lack of space, overcrowding can also lead to poor water quality, so the fish have less oxygen to breathe.
Rearing fish in cages also prevents their natural swimming behaviour. Salmon are migratory, and would naturally swim great distances at sea. Instead, they are left to swim in circles around the cage, rubbing against the mesh and each other.
If the farmed fish aren’t healthy, how are they providing nutrition to us?
Building awareness to create large scale behavioural change is a journey. Seaspiracy provides a strong starting place by pulling at the heartstrings of viewers. I would definitely recommend watching Seaspiracy, alongside a strong recommendation to undertake personal research. Watching and reading the various works of others will ensure you can make fully informed decisions.
So what can we do to save our oceans?
Holding the commercial fishing industry, corporations and our world leaders accountable for their part in the destruction of the ocean is vital to making a change, but it is only one part of the equation. It is easy to pass the buck completely but in reality extensive, long-lasting change requires us to look at these issues as ‘We’ problems rather than ‘Them’ problems.
Reduce Seafood Consumption – If you can give up eating seafood completely, that is the most sustainable and straightforward action especially if you are unable to verify the source of the fish yourself. With so many plant-based seafood alternatives on the market, you can still have your fish and chips or popcorn shrimp just without the associated harm. A few seafood alternatives include Sophie’s Kitchen Plant-based Seafood and Gardien which can be found in local supermarkets. Additionally Proveg International and One Green Planet also offer a great range of seafood alternative recipes. Famously put by Bruce the Shark in the movie Finding Nemo, “Fish are friends, not food”.
Reduce Plastic Use – Reducing your seafood consumption is a great start but with an estimated 8 million metrics tons of plastic trash ending up in our oceans every year we still have a lot of work to do on the plastic front. Reducing your plastic use will in turn help reduce the plastic that ends up in our oceans.
Donate – Donating to reputable, not for profits that assist with ocean clean-ups, ocean regeneration, and enforcement of fishing regulations is another great way to make a difference. Generally, these donations assist these organisations with lobbying government agencies to get protective policies enacted, as well as funding independent investigations that are used to keep the fishing industry in check. A few great causes to support are
- Sea Shepard Conservation Society (as featured in Seaspiracy)
- Parley (as featured in Seaspiracy)
- Help Our Kelp (UK) (endorsed by David Attenborough)
Sign Petitions – Fundamental long-lasting change will not occur until there are changes in government policies, legislation and regulation. To let those in leadership positions know how you feel – sign petitions. Greenpeace is one of the numerous organisations that have ocean protection-related petitions that you can sign – check out their website for more details.
Volunteer – Finally, volunteering your time with not for profits that focus on ocean protection is both a fulfilling way to spend your free time, and it will also make a difference to our ocean friends. Parley, Sea Shepard’s and Great British Beach Clean all offer volunteering events.
I am always looking for new documentaries to add to my watchlist so please provide any recommendations in the comments section below.