10 worrisome facts the new documentary Seaspiracy showed us
The recently released documentary Seaspiracy, available on Netflix since March 24th, is a wake-up call for anyone who still thinks that eating fish is healthy, ethical, or sustainable. While romantic imagery of artisanal fishers catching fish for their own livelihood in small boats out at sea has often been used as a marketing strategy, this depiction could not be further from reality of the fishing industry.
Produced by Kip Anderson — the producer of Cowspiracy and What The Health — along with Ali and Lucy Tabrizi, the groundbreaking documentary discloses all the dirty secrets the fishing industry tries to hide from consumers. From plastic pollution to overfishing and the impacts on biodiversity and threats to human existence to slavery, human trafficking, and death, here are 10 of the most worrisome facts exposed by the documentary.
1. Sustainable seafood is a myth
According to Tabrizi’s narration, "commercial fishing is basically wildlife poaching on a mass scale". The documentary estimates that 5 million fish are slaughtered every minute, globally. This leaves little space for doubt about whether there is another industry on earth that kills anywhere near as many animals.
"I have looked long and hard, seriously, at trying to find an example of where a large-scale extraction of wildlife is sustainable. It just doesn't exist", said the renowned marine biologist and explorer Sylvia Earle.
2. Fish farming is just as bad
Carnivorous farmed fish are fed wild-caught fish. The documentary highlights that, to produce 1kg of salmon, 1.2kg of feed is necessary, and this costs the lives of a massive amount of fish. In other words, when you order salmon at a restaurant, you’re not just demanding one fish, but several.
3. The shark fin industry is leading to extinction of many sharks
According to the documentary, several species of sharks — such as thresher, bull, smooth hammerhead and scalloped hammerhead — lost 80%–99% of their populations in just the last few decades. Their extinction leads to the vanishing of many other species as well, including seabirds. This happens because as big predators, sharks guarantee the balance of the whole marine ecosystem. Every hour, between 11,000 and 30,000 sharks are killed by humans — almost half through bycatch, where they are then discarded back into the ocean.
4. Bycatch is way more dangerous for marine animals than the Taiji dolphin hunt, in Japan
In Taiji, Japan, the documentary director witnessed a cruel tradition: boats drive dolphins and other small cetaceans into a cove, and then the animals are slaughtered by having their throats slit.
But despite the shock value of this particular practice, the documentary highlights that the fishing industry kills many more dolphins as a side effect of commercial fishing: around 40% of all marine catch is bycatch, which are animals caught accidentally who are then dropped back into the ocean, dead.
In Taiji, fewer than 1,000 dolphins are killed per year. According to the NGO Sea Shepherd, up to 10,000 dolphins are killed every year by bycatch just on the Atlantic French Coast alone.
5. Plastic is the villain, but it’s not really about your straw
According to the film, 46% of the Pacific garbage patch is discarded fishing nets, whereas plastic straws — allegedly the villain — only account for 0.03% of plastic pollution in the ocean.
As a consequence, 1,000 sea turtles die because of plastic every year. In the U.S. alone, 250,000 are captured, injured, or killed by fishing vessels during the same period. "Now, it's entirely right to say that we must use far less plastic. But even if not a single gram of [consumer] plastic entered the oceans from today onwards, we would still be ripping those ecosystems apart because the biggest issue by far is commercial fishing", says journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot.
6. The fishing industry kills more animals in a day than the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico did in months
The comparison comes from marine scientist and professor Callum Roberts, from the University of York. What’s more, Roberts says that the oil spill actually ended up helping the environment a bit because of the fishing restrictions imposed on the area due to the risk of contamination while the oil was leaking.
7. Fishing is essentially “deforestation” of the ocean floors
The documentary explains a disturbing technique called “trawling”, in which nets big enough to swallow cathedrals or up to 13 jumbo jet planes are used. These nets reach the bottom of the oceans and “scar the sea floor, leaving a wasteland behind”. This is compared with land deforestation, but it occurs at a higher level: while the equivalent to 27 soccer fields are deforested per minute in land, trawling decimates an estimated 4,316 soccer fields in the same period of time.
8. There is no real climate change fight while there are fish on our dish
Marine plants can stock up to 20 times more carbon per acre than forests on land. 93% of all world's CO2 is stored in the ocean, with the help of marine vegetation, algae, and corals. Losing just 1% of this ecosystem is equivalent to releasing the emissions of 97 million cars. That’s why the founder of NGO Sea Shepherd, Captain Paul Watson, said: “If you want to address climate change, the first thing you do is protect the ocean. And the solution to that is very simple: leave it alone".
9. The fishing industry is closely linked to several outrageous human rights abuses
According to Sea Shepherd’s Captain Peter Hammarstedt, the fishing industry must be understood inside of a context of international organized crime. “The same syndicates that are behind illegal fishing are the same criminal groups that are behind drug trafficking, human trafficking, and other crimes”, he claims.
No wonder why some observers responsible for monitoring activities in vessels have just "mysteriously" disappeared, such as Keith Davis, who in recent years went missing off the coast of Peru. In Papua New Guinea, 18 observers went missing in just 5 years, and in the Philippines in 2015, the observer Gerlie Alpajora was assassinated in cold blood in her own house after the arrest of a tuna fisherman for illegal fishing.
The workers’ mortality is extremely high. The documentary compares the industry to the Iraq war, in which 4,563 soldiers died over the course of 15 years. During the same time, 360,000 fishery workers died doing their jobs.
Testimonials from Thai workers expose that they were physically abused, and that human bodies were even kept on the freezers of the vessels after being murdered. Other workers have allegedly been dropped in the sea to drown.
10. Fish feel pain
"To me, it's remarkable that this question (on whether fish feel pain) is even asked. As a scientist, it's common sense. They have a nervous system, fish do. They have the basic elements that all vertebrates have. They have the capacity to feel on a level that I almost can't imagine we can. (...) Those who say ‘it doesn't matter what you do to a fish, they can't feel anything’ or that their consciousness, they can't relate to pain or they can’t sense danger in the future... Well, they haven't really observed fish. I think it's a justification for doing dastardly things to innocent creatures” explains the legendary Sylvia Earle.
Fish have complex social lives, they team up with other species to find food, and they have memory capabilities. “Their pain receptors for physical, chemical, and heat types of pain are the same three kinds that humans have. There’s evidence of fish showing curiosity, perhaps concern and fear, and they use strategies to communicate”, biologist Jonathan Balcombe explains.
The best way to spare the lives of marine animals and guarantee the future of the oceans is to leave fish out of our dish. Download our free e-book to learn 15 sea inspired vegan recipes and hacks here.