Drowning in statistics and left daunted by the possibility of fishless oceans in 2048? To help you keep your head above water, Holly Miles breaks down the six most shocking revelations from new Netflix documentary, ‘Seaspiracy’.
Left reeling after watching ‘Seaspiracy’ on Netflix? You weren’t alone. Directed by Ali Tabrizi, the documentary details the darkest secrets of the fishing industry. The mechanisms behind industrial-scale fishing are often hidden beneath murky waters, but Seaspiracy brings economic motivation and the subsequent destruction to the surface. From beneath the waves to your plate, what exactly does your appetite for fish cost the planet?
In case, like me, the revelations of Seaspiracy left you feeling overwhelmed, we’ve broken down the six most shocking discoveries below.
Ever felt guilty after you opted for that plastic straw in your iced latte? It probably wasn’t warranted. In recent years, major environmental campaigns have spoken out about the importance of reducing plastic consumption – but one of the biggest culprits is often overlooked. Discarded plastic fishing gear from industrial practises account for 70% of macro plastic pollution in the oceans. In a single day, longline boats set enough plastic line to wrap around the earth’s surface 500 times. Plastic straws, however, total only 0.03% of total pollution. Whilst we should all aim to reduce our consumption of single-use plastic items in our everyday life, one of the most powerful ways to combat this particular type of pollution is leaving fish off your plate.
Carbon Capturing Capacity
If you’re an environmentalist, you’re likely familiar with the fact that one football pitch of forest is lost every second to deforestation. But less is known about the importance of the carbon capturing capacity beneath the ocean’s surface. Coastal plants have the power to store up to 20 times more carbon than the plants on land, and it is estimated that 93% of carbon is stored in our oceans. Trawling practises are responsible for 3.9 billion acres of sea floor deforestation every year. Phytoplankton also play an import role in the capture of carbon, storing up to 4 times more than the Amazon rainforest every year. These microorganisms are dependent upon species of whale for their fertilisation. As whale populations decrease, as does the ocean’s capacity to withhold carbon from warming our climate.
Industrial farming of shrimp and prawns is responsible for the destruction of 38% of Mangrove Forests. These are biodiverse habitats, rich in life, that hold important roles in protecting coastal civilizations from natural disasters, such as flooding and tsunamis. Protecting our planet’s rainforests is rightfully an important priority, but enough attention should surely be given to sustaining ecosystems below the surface.
Biodiversity and Bycatch
Would you ever eat a dolphin? For most people, the answer is probably ‘no’. But a phenomenon known as bycatch could explain how up to 300,000 dolphins per year can become entangled with some of our favourite fish, such as tuna. Seaspiracy proposes that 40% of fish caught in commercial fishing are bycatch – fish that are unintentionally caught and subsequently discarded in the search for other species. These figures include 50 million sharks per year – that’s 11,000-30,000 sharks killed per hour – and 300,000 dolphins per year, including the death of 10,000 dolphins per year on the Atlantic coast alone.
These numbers have had knock-on effects for our ocean’s ecosystems. In a matter of decades, an 80-90% decline in shark populations has prompted a 70% decline in the number of seabirds. Seabirds rely on sharks to drive fish populations closer to the earth’s surface in order to feed. Unable to adapt to this rapid change, as the shark populations diminish, numbers of seabirds follow suit. In these shocking statistics, Seaspiracy demonstrates how our appetite for a single species isn’t isolated in its impact.
Sustainability or Smart Marketing?
There’s something a little fishy about the suggestion of sustainability in industrial-scale practise. Is the notion of sustainable fishing a possibility, or just a smart marketing strategy? Seaspiracy investigates the reality behind logos that you may recognise from your weekly supermarket shop. Tabrizi places the ‘Dolphin Safe’ label – often included on cans of tuna – under scrutiny in a shock interview. Mark J. Palmer, member of Earth Island Institute, the organisation responsible for the Dolphin Safe label, admitted that ‘nobody can’ guarantee that tins of tuna bearing the label are, in fact, ‘dolphin safe’. He elaborated that observers onboard ships are often ‘bribed’ into approving its use. As many as 11 dolphins can be killed as bycatch in order to retrieve just 8 tuna from our oceans.
Tabrizi cites MSC’s Certified Sustainable Seafood logo as another culprit, claiming that 80% of the company’s £30,000,000 annual income is generated by the sale of their logo to be included on commercial seafood products. In an interview, Dr. Sylvia Earle – founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research and Mission Blue – states simply that sustainable fishing ‘just doesn’t exist’.
Seafood and Slavery
One of the darkest twists of the documentary detailed reports of forced labour in the seafood trade in a total of 47 countries. Steve Trent of the Environmental Justice Foundation describes slavery at sea as a ‘massive problem’. In a chilling interview, anonymous interviewees claim to have been trapped in a contract of forced labour on fishing vessels for as many as six consecutive years. Within these sickening revelations, Tabrizi reveals that Industrial Fishing is not only an environmental issue – it is an imminent humanitarian issue.
Thinking about quitting fish? If the possibility of fishless oceans by 2048 has your head spinning and you want to make a change, these are some things to consider. Despite its sinister undercurrents, Tabrizi’s documentary concludes on somewhat of an optimistic note, citing a multitude of plant-based replicas to substitute for your favourite taste. Seaspiracy.org even links a ‘PLANeT Based’ meal planner, full of recipe suggestion, including ‘Sea Friendly Fish n’ Chips’. Though Seaspiracy isn’t awash with positive statistics, Talbrizi does suggest that pledging to protect 30% of our oceans in the form of no-catch marine reserves could allow life to recover. An end to fishing subsidies – currently $35 billion per year – could also have big benefits for the future of our oceans.
Still unconvinced, but curious to know more about where your food truly comes from? Watching Seaspiracy is a great place to start. Beneath a tidal wave of statistics, one simple fact is clear: we cannot restore our environment if we do not prioritise the health of our oceans.
Holly Miles is News and Politics Editor of WILD Magazine and is in her third year of studying English Literature at the University of York.