Seaspiracy: A Review
Since its release in March 2021, Seaspiracy, a documentary on marine life exploitation and sustainability, has garnered much attention globally. The critical and largely controversial issues addressed in the film have been the subject of discourse across numerous platforms, both online and offline. Many institutions and organizations criticized by the documentary have made efforts to debunk its claims. However, an interesting aspect of the current unfolding of events is the enlightenment it brings the public, particularly the right it gives individuals to make informed choices. Such choices include limiting plastic use and consuming less or no fish (and seafood) and hold numerous implications on the safety of our planet.
Seaspiracy is a 90-minute documentary by Ali Tabrizi, Lucy Tabrizi, and Kip Andersen. Although inspired by Ali Tabrizi's childhood obsession with dolphins and whales, the documentary transcends these large marine species. Seaspiracy provides useful insights into the multibillion-dollar fishing industry and its damaging consequences on marine life worldwide. It also exposes how the planet and, by extension, humans are affected by the ensuing cascade of events. Critical issues addressed in the film crisscross plastic waste management, commercial fishing and seafood production, human trafficking, organized deception, and corruption.
Why Seaspiracy? Tabrizi grew up watching documentaries about whales and dolphins, an exposure that contributed to his fascination with the beauty, abundance, and complexity of the ocean. His desire to create a documentary thus derived largely from this attraction to the ocean. However, he realized there was much more to his picture-perfect vision of the ocean after embarking on the project. Numerous media reports of dead whales washing up on beaches were the first problem that caught his attention. One major function of tier-one ocean creatures such as whales is supplying phytoplankton (a highly abundant microscopic family capable of photosynthesizing) nutrients. In turn, phytoplankton absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and generates most oxygen supporting human life. Dying whales, thus, pose a danger to phytoplankton levels in the sea, threatening both the planet and humans in the long run.
Fueled by the desire to keep whales and dolphins alive, Tabrizi decided to step in and offer the little support he could. He made donations to ocean charities and voluntarily cleared up plastic-littered beaches. He also cut down on plastic use by opting for reusable cutlery. But these acts did not seem sufficient to combating the monstrous challenge. Rather, he realized the ocean crisis was more deep-rooted than he had thought. So, he plunged even deeper and would stop at nothing until he got to its very depths. Yet, his goal was simple – to find answers to the questions no one was asking and satisfy his curiosity about topics most people may not be willing to discuss.
Where does Marine Plastic come from?
An interview with George Monbiot, a journalist, author, and environmentalist shed light on the origin and constituent of ocean plastic and the great harm they pose to marine life. George revealed the majority of marine plastic causing the most harm to life underwater. Although widely attributed to plastic straws and bags, Tabrizi learnt it was in reality fishing nets and gears. Cutting down plastic use is a major focus for top organizations such as the Plastic Pollution Coalition, which advocate the protection of marine life. However, it appeared these organizations deliberately sidestep the graver challenge of fishing gears. Instead, they focus on the lesser of the two evils – tea bags, straws, and chewing gum – which accounted for only 0.03% of all ocean plastic.
Fishing nets alone, on the other hand, contributed almost half of the plastic garbage floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). This data is based on a 2018 research published in Nature which linked 46% of plastics in the GPGP to fishing nets. The research also predicted about 79,000 tons of plastic were floating in the GPGP based on the model it used. Quite surprisingly, the estimates recorded surpassed initial projections by more than 400%. Notably, these nets and gears have been found in some of the world's remotest regions, including Henderson Island in the Pacific Ocean and Svalbard in the Arctic Circle. The marine imbalance caused by these fishing tools far surpasses that of other conventional plastic products, which find their way into water bodies. Little wonder the dying whales Tabrizi was drawn to at the onset of his research held fishing gears in their stomach.
Well, the reason for this threat from fishing nets and gears is quite obvious – they are specifically designed to kill fishes, sometimes harming other aquatic animals in the process. Thus, their widespread use only exacerbates the irreversible hazard they expose marine life to. Reaching out to Jackie Nuñez of the Plastic Pollution Coalition for comments, she agreed that eliminating or cutting down fish consumption was key to reducing fishing net trash. However, Dianna Cohen, Chief Executive Officer of the same organization, claimed 'a consumer focus to eat less fish' was not her 'area of focus'. Cohen's response raised the question of what aspect of plastic pollution the organization focused on, considering its reputation as a frontline preacher of marine life safety.
What Links Does Human Trafficking have with Sea Food Production? As Tabrizi would later find out, fishing nets and gears were not the only problems he had to contend with. Shrimp and prawn, popular seafood largely consumed globally, are produced in large quantities on the continent of Asia. But, unfortunately, their production depletes Mangrove forests which protect humans, livestock and buildings against storms and tsunamis. Well, that is just one aspect of shrimp and prawn trade. 'Blood shrimp', a nametag coined for shrimp in the documentary, derives from the heavy involvement of cheap human labor in shrimp feed production. Well, as you would have rightly guessed, the labour factor is exactly where slavery and human trafficking comes in.
Human trafficking and forced labor, another ugly aspect of commercial fishing covered in Tabrizi's documentary, may not be a common topic. However, they are critical challenges that also overlap drug trafficking and crime. Previous research has explored the prevalence of human trafficking in the Thai fishing industry. Largely, the services provided by trafficked persons help fish farmers and sea captains alike to cut down costs and sustain or improve their profit margins. The growing concern of human trafficking and labour abuses in fish farms has also been linked to diminishing fish reserves and the resulting drive to boost fish production at all costs. With the government subsidizing part of the operation costs, it is clear why it would also turn a blind eye to these undercover operations of tyrant ship captains.
From his experience holding covert interviews with trafficked young men in Bangkok, Thailand, Tabrizi rightly deduced the government's involvement in the nation's human trafficking challenge. Although abruptly terminated for security concerns, these interviews provided enough insights into the severity of the human trafficking dilemma of the nation's fishing industry. Among the individuals Tabrizi interacted with were those who had worked at sea for years, enduring physical torture and psychological trauma. He also gathered that trafficked persons traveled on heavily guarded ships and were subject to inhumane treatment from their captors. These enslaved workers were liable to being killed and thrown off-board into the ocean or stored in cold rooms within the vessel, with regulatory authorities made to believe they had slipped into the sea or died of ill-health. The highly convoluted and bizarre stories unearthed by Tabrizi's documentary confirmed the need for such cover-ups. But there is a way out of the miserable and appalling conditions of these labourers. Cutting down on or eliminating the consumption of seafood, especially shrimp and prawn, holds the key to their freedom. This solution, however, does not lie within their reach; it is the world's to provide.
Counting the Costs The all-encompassing consequences of harvesting fish highlighted in Seaspiracy transcend the act itself. They also derive from the methods adopted by the fishing industry. Trawling, for instance, is one such method that offers little or no benefit to aquatic life. Bottom trawling, which is the most unbeneficial trawling technique described yet, involves pulling a large net attached to a boat along the seafloor. Amongst its several disadvantages are its destruction of the natural habitat of ground-dwelling marine organisms and the high percentage of by-catch with which it has been associated. By-catch refers to fish, or other marine life caught unintentionally alongside a target. Although they are often returned, most by-catch marine species do not arrive at the sea alive. Other times, fishermen use the by-catch as an excuse to eliminate perceived competitors such as dolphins and whales. For example, Tabrizi found out numerous dolphins were lost to tuna harvest, a loss that raised concerns about the popular 'Dolphin Safe' labels of tuna products. Apart from the Earth Island Institute's inability to effectively supervise tuna harvesting, Tabrizi found out fishermen were also intentionally killing dolphins. The fishermen kill these 'innocent' dolphins because they consider them a competition in their search for larger shoals of tuna. Further investigations by Tabrizi revealed a mind-boggling link between the Plastic Pollution Coalition, the Earth Island Institute, and 'Dolphin Safe' labels. He also found out that these labels were mere camouflage for an institute bent on making huge revenues off commercial fishing. According to the documentary, the impact of this loss of top-tier marine species may result in an empty ocean by 2048. This projection, based on a widely debated study released in 2006, has earned the documentary numerous criticisms.
Are there Healthier, more Environment-friendly Alternatives to Fish and Sea Foods? Beyond exposing the ugly reality of commercial fishing and related marine activities, Seaspiracy also offers useful alternatives to helping the ocean heal. The multiple ripple effects of harvesting or consuming fish can be circumvented or minimized by eating less fish and seafood. Not only are plant-based alternatives to seafood better for the planet, but they are also safer and more nutritious than conventional marine food products. Seaspiracy offers hope that we could restore the balance across marine life and the planet if we became more conscious about our daily choices. The documentary recommends establishing 'no-take' zones and eliminating harmful seafood subsidies, and of course, fish consumption as practical ways to save the ocean and our planet. At Conscient Kind, we are taking conscious steps to reduce the global plastic burden and invite you to walk this course with us. We understand how badly plastic products endanger aquatic life and are poised to rewrite popular narratives. The alternatives to plastic we offer are eco-friendly and safe for your use. Kindly subscribe to our newsletter to connect with us and learn more about what we do and the products we offer. We assure you of a remarkable experience.