The UK alone consumes £5.7 billion worth of fish and seafood products every year. For the first time the other day, I realised I was hesitant when reaching for that familiar tin. Let me explain: it occured after viewing documentary of the moment, Seaspiracy, which seeks to expose the fishing industries’ impact on the world's oceans - creating passionate vegetarians and detractors alike in its wake.
This Earth Day, I’ve been reflecting on the 2021 theme: Restore Our Earth, which focuses on innovative thinking to restore the planet’s ecosystem. As we begin to make moves to restore and rebuild in a post-COVID world,
As the high profile doc continues to gain traction, there will no doubt be many more like myself following suit with similar reevaluations of our lifestyle choices. This is a shocking, brutal and bleak watch. You are forced to see cruelty and disregard on such a scale you wonder how the ecosystem of the sea hasn’t already collapsed. But, one can’t deny that it is eye opening and stirring, currently holding the number one watched spot in many countries on Netflix. Ali Tabrizi, the filmmaker, says his ultimate goal was ‘to create a global discussion around the topic of food choice and sustainability, that effects change on a personal, industrial and governmental level.’ Well, he’s certainly achieved the first element. I generally think of myself as proactive in my contributions to reduce my impact on the environment. However, my long-held tuna habit definitely questioned after the viewing. Afterwards, I started researching tuna fishing and ended up with a much deeper understanding of the impact fishing as an industry has on the environment.
Firstly: no, I don’t think Seaspiracy represents its facts and figures in the most impartial ways. Considering the documentary is produced by those behind Cowspiracy, there are times where the film loses its way, the transparency of the producers’ motives err towards pushing a vegan agenda and vilifying those who eat fish. But, you would be wrong to assume that this is the entire backbone of the documentary. It simply blemishes the integrity of something that doesn’t need any hyperbole.
There is a certain naivety behind the film’s suggestion that we simply end fishing and that there is no such thing as a sustainable alternative. Not only does this dismiss organisations which are actually doing good and proving alternatives can be a success, it also disregards the many millions of people who rely on fishing as a means of living and don’t make a dent on the fish stocks.
If this makes people read up and reveal the inaccuracies and misrepresentations, it’s challenged indifference, which is arguably better than denial and ignorance. Seaspiracy viewers might not necessarily walk away as fans of the film - but they can still become critics of a system that clearly has major flaws.
A lot of people I know who have viewed the documentary, have said they will never eat fish again. This, I suppose is a good start, if a lot of people reduce demand for a product ultimately the reduction in profit will make it less appealing to those big investors responsible for the majority of problems behind extensive fishing. But, unfortunately, there WILL always be a demand for fish, the money to be made will simply move elsewhere. Fish is a necessity for a lot of communities wellbeing, whether through diet or financially, there is no alternative. They would perish without the ability to fish. This is the point where the excitement of a documentary like this wears off, people become driven to make a change but that change is eventually viewed as having so little impact that there is very little point in sacrificing this element of your diet. When you see the selfishness and greed of those at the top, combined with the power, ruthlessness and money those people have, it is a bit of David and Goliath situation.
Perhaps the main problem I have with Seaspiracy is that the main takeaway viewers will have is ‘I will stop eating fish’, as this is framed as the single and only thing one can do to help with the fishing crisis. That doesn’t leave any room for alternative activism. So, what else CAN you do to help?
Learn, listen and get inspired by innovation leaders, academics, politicians, campaigners and more at our first ever virtual, sustainability festival, Earthrise Summit on May 19th. Hear from the minds behind food businesses championing sustainability, including Iceland and Tony’s Chocolonely, plus food waste campaigners Tristam Stuart and Saasha Celestial-One, Founder of Olio. Book your ticket here.