Seaspiracy: how Earth’s greatest lifeline is being destroyed

Art by @paruldreamingoftheseaart on Instagram

The Netflix documentary, Seaspiracy, brings to light some uncomfortable truths about the commercial fishing industry, and as a result, it has ignited roaring debates. Filmmaker and fervent activist, Ali Tabrizi, investigates the conspicuous connection between industrial fishing and several ecological and social consequences, such as the dying ocean, the declining marine wildlife, and the impacted livelihoods of workers, predominantly in the Global South.

Dying oceans, diminishing biodiversity, and “blood shrimp” — a term relating to slave labour and human rights violations in the fishing industry — are just some of the issues brought to attention by the documentary. Despite claims of overly sensationalised and misleading facts, the film paints a shocking picture of humans’ impact on the oceans. 

“Seaspiracy unapologetically calls out a number of NGOs and companies for their unsustainable fishing habits and, unsurprisingly, their backs have been up ever since.”

To understand why we should care, we must first acknowledge why the ocean is Earth’s greatest lifeline. As well as being  the planet’s original source of life, it supports both human and nonhuman animals, and is home to a diverse abundance of species and plants, holding around 97% of the Earth’s water. However, in the Global North, we are currently operating under a capitalist system which perpetuates the acceleration of climate change. To combat this, the ocean acts as a counterforce to regulate and absorb harmful carbon dioxide gases, as well as to provide 50 to 70% of our oxygen. Though, the ocean cannot handle this seemingly infinite and excessive injection of carbon dioxide. 

Scientists have maintained that the ocean’s ecosystems will be first hit by climate change and we can now see these alterations happening . The ocean has already warmed to an unprecedented extent, and the amount of acid and dead zones have worsened. Through the media, we have been exposed to the widespread coral bleaching that occurred in tropical seas between 2015 to 2017, ultimately portraying the death of an ecosystem. However, other information is somewhat limited, chiefly because of its economic significance. Of course, data surrounding the expansion of ‘dead zones’ as a result of climate change is accessible from scientific research, but Seaspiracy aims to bring these facts into mainstream discourse . These dead zones, defined as areas where oxygen is significantly deficient, have quadrupled since research was carried out in the 1960s. 

Along with human-driven climate change, the ocean faces a devastating threat from the commercial fishing industry. Seaspiracy unapologetically calls out a number of NGOs and companies for their unsustainable fishing habits and, unsurprisingly, their backs have been up ever since. The documentary exposes the connection between commercial fishing and declining ocean biodiversity. 

“If we continue to think that cutting back on plastic bags and straws is going to fix the problem, we are in for a shocking wake up call.”

Overfishing is defined as the removal of a species at such an intense rate that it cannot replenish itself, thus causing a significant drop in population in that part of the ocean. The FAO of the United Nations reported in 2018 that, by 2015, around one-third of world fish stocks were overfished. This renders our undivided attention; it is not an issue that is far off in the tropical waters, but is closer to home. 

Cod can be found everywhere: in our supermarkets, restaurants, and local chippy, but this does not come without an insidious cost. A report published by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) in 2019 found North Sea cod stocks had dropped to critical levels. It exposed the unsustainable practice of cod fishing taking place right under our noses and recommended a 63% cut in catch. Seaspiracy finds that an estimated 50 billion sharks are killed as bycatch every year –a species ‘unintentionally’ (or unwantedly) caught when fishing for a targeted species. However, this activity is happening right here in the North Sea too. An FOI report found that 26,000 tonnes of unwanted cod, haddock, whiting, and saithe were discarded by scampi fisheries in the first three months of 2019.

So, if we start on the basic assumption that overfishing is a problem, it does not seem audacious to claim excessive fish consumption is the crux of marine destruction. The fishing industry is having an unimaginable impact on the health of the ocean and the life it sustains, all for the purpose of increasing profits. It is paramount that the government stops washing its hands of the problem and implements legislation to protect our greatest lifeline before further damage is done. According to the government, 36% of England’s waters are “safeguarded as marine protected areas”, but in reality, commercial fishing is excluded from as little as 0.1% of these so-called ‘reserves’. As it stands, there is no impetus from the government to combat this.
As consumers, Seaspiracy urges us to heavily reduce our fish consumption, or better, to cut it completely. I implore everyone to watch the documentary; if we continue to think that cutting back on plastic bags and straws is going to fix the problem, we are in for a shocking wake up call.

Article by Beckie Walker