Seaspiracy Review: Is There a Solution to Overfishing?

Image: Gray, Amelia. “Seaspiracy Featured Image”. PNG. June. 2021

What is Seaspiracy?

Ever find yourself in that endless cycle, watching the same Netflix series over and over again? Dive into the shocking world of industrial fishing to spice things up! Seaspiracy is a new documentary on Netflix about the impact commercial fishing has on ocean health and devises an overfishing solution.

Filmmaker Ali Tabrizi sets off on a journey to uncover the truth behind how fish makes it to our plates. But along the way, he makes some horrifying discoveries. The film undoubtedly does a great job of bringing awareness to the problematic nature of commercial fisheries. However, experts have pointed out some pitfalls of the film. A major one is its broad and one-sided coverage of deeply complicated issues voiced by marine biologists, non-governmental organizations, and scientists.

The question is: Do the misrepresentations and fishy facts in Seaspiracy take away from its strengths?

many fish underwater that is clear and bright blue

The Issues Seaspiracy Covers

It is hard to briefly summarize Seaspiracy because it covers many topics in just ninety minutes. However, these are the topics you’ll find in Seaspiracy concerning the adverse impact of commercial fishing on our oceans:

Seaspiracy takes watchers to Taiji, Japan, and documents illegal and corrupt fishing operations that are endangering species like sharks and dolphins. Next, the film discusses commercial fishing’s contribution to the vast amounts of bycatch and how it harms species survival. The film reveals the fishing industry’s contribution to ocean pollution from abandoned fishing gear. Correspondingly, it questions why campaigns against plastic aren’t talking about it. Soon after, Tabrizi looks into the legitimacy of ocean advocating organizations and exposes the MSC Dolphin-Safe label. Seaspiracy covers the history of industrial fishing and questions if sustainable fishing is even feasible. He soon discovers the many negative impacts commercial fishing has on coral reefs, local economies, and species survival. Finally, the overfishing solution Tabrizi offers to viewers is to stop eating fish or at least decrease their consumption.

overfishing in Brazil. Many fish in a pile of ice.

The Pitfalls

While many viewers enjoyed Seaspiracy, the film received substantial backlash from the marine science community and other experts. Specifically, it was criticized for one-sided coverage of issues and misleading, inaccurate information. Some critics argue that the pitfalls ultimately undermine the film’s credibility and valuable core message about ocean life and finding the overfishing solution. Let’s dive deep into the main drawbacks of the movie, according to experts in the field.

No Fish in the Ocean by 2048

If you’ve already watched Seaspiracy, you probably fell into a panic when you heard that the ocean would run out of fish by 2048 at the current rate of overfishing. However, many experts have debunked this claim. Marine biologist and scientist Chantel Elston explained in a video about Seaspiracy that this isn’t true.

In fact, the original paper Tabrizi cites in Seaspiracy has been debunked and refuted by current research about overfishing and fish population trends.

The Majority of Plastic in the Ocean is From Fishing Nets

Next, Seaspiracy cites that 46% of plastic in the ocean is from abandoned fishing nets. However, this number references plastic pollution within the great pacific garbage patch. Thus, one can’t accurately apply this number to plastic in the entire ocean.

reducing the amount of plastic pollution from fishing nets as a huge part of the overfishing solution

Scientists like Gil Carvalho, MD, Ph.D., have fact-checked this number. Instead, experts offer a more applicable study that summarises the sources of plastic pollution in the ocean. The study found that 80% of plastic in the ocean is from land-based sources, while the remaining 20% is from commercial fishing. Obviously, this is a far cry from Seaspiracy’s 46%. Still, that doesn’t mean you should ignore commercial fishing’s contribution to plastic pollution in the ocean. All in all, it is still a pressing issue worth being addressed.

Further, marine biologist and scientist Chantel had similar things to say and emphasized,

“Don’t stop worrying about your plastic consumption and trying to reduce your plastic consumption because it makes a huge difference.” 

Sustainable Fishing Doesn’t Exist

Additionally, Seaspiracy discusses sustainable commercial fisheries and rejects their existence. Sustainability is undoubtedly a tricky term to define and is often misleading. But, experts in the field argue that sustainable fisheries are real and do exist.

For example, in response to Seaspiracy, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) writes, “One of the amazing things about our oceans is that fish stocks can recover and replenish if they are managed carefully for the long term.” Overall, the term “sustainability” is deeply plagued with legacy issues, but sustainable fishing is a potential overfishing solution. So, if you want to learn more, check out The Secret to Sustainable Seafood. An article that outlines issues in the seafood industry and how you can get involved.

The Overfishing Solution is to Stop Eating Fish

Near the end of the film, the overfishing solution Seaspiracy advocates for is for viewers to eliminate fish in their diet. Of course, reducing your fish intake and being more mindful of where the food you’re eating comes from is a powerful practice for decreasing your impact on our planet. 

healthy food ingredients in small bowls. Food like berries, kale, lentils, chia seeds, radish, and carrots

On the other hand, experts explain the problem with this overfishing solution is that it doesn’t account for the immense complexity of the issues presented.

For instance, many people’s livelihood depends on fish. Greenpeace, an environmental organization, came out with a statement about the claims Seaspiracy made against them. In fact, Greenpeace does educate its supporters about the power of a plant-forward diet. However, Greenpeace also recognizes that a ban on fish will negatively impact the many people’s livelihoods that depend on the fishing industry. Essentially, Greenpeace argues that erasing the fish industry would undermine these people’s rights.

If you want to learn more about how your food makes it to your plate, check out our page on food systems.

The Portrayal of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Next, Seaspiracy dives into the world of ocean advocating NGOs and critiques many, like Earth Island Institute, the Marine Stewardship Council, and the Plastic Pollution Coalition, for not taking a stand against overfishing and the damage it has on marine life. These organizations have since spoken out against the claims Seaspiracy has made against them.

For example, the plastic pollution coalition responded by addressing Seaspiracy’s misrepresentation of their organization. They noted their immense efforts to depict the plastic pollution crisis to the filmmakers. Moreover, they were incredibly disappointed to see the “cherry-picked seconds of our comments to support their own narrative” when the film made its debut on Netflix. Ultimately, the coalition felt their efforts to solve a shared problem were undermined and misrepresented.

Similarly, a different NGO criticized in Seaspiracy, Oceana, responded to the harsh claims against them for not advocating for a diet without fish. Oceana explained the many ways the film misrepresented its organization. In reality, Oceana’s campaigns have taken clear and tangible steps to help solve the problems outlined in Seaspiracy, just not in the way Seaspiracy wants them to.

Largely, the NGOs’ Seaspiracy references are doing more good than harm in finding overfishing solutions, especially through policy and legislation. Unfortunately, Seaspiracy downplays the vital work these organizations are doing and undermines their contributions to the cause.

What Seaspiracy Does Well

What Seaspiracy lacks in credibility and in-depth coverage of issues, it makes up for in its ability to convince people to care. I know it convinced me. Specifically, Paul Watson, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder, came out with a statement supporting Seaspiracy.

Along with Watson, many viewers applaud Seaspiracy for getting people to care about a widely unknown issue. Plus, it might get viewers to care for our oceans and finding an overfishing solution more than ever.

   Image: Ho, Lucy. Overfishing Infographic. PNG. May. 2021

Seaspiracy Starts a Much Needed Conversation

deep blue and white waves of water where the ocean and the rive meet

First, Seaspiracy does a great job at getting viewers thinking about ocean protection in ways they hadn’t before. The widely unknown information and shocking footage sparked its popularity on Netflix and a new discussion surrounding commercial fishing. Primarily due to its movie-like style, viewers stayed entertained and engaged, which manifested its fame.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Captain Paul Watson said,

“It’s designed to captivate viewers and to entice discussion and controversy. If people are talking about it, that means it’s a success. If people are criticizing it, that means it is having an impact.”

Essentially, Seaspiracy’s gripping content triggered the momentum to start a conversation about our oceans and finding overfishing solutions.

Seaspiracy Convinces People to Care

Likewise, the exact filming style that started a new conversation about ocean protection and commercial fishing convinces viewers to care. In a statement on his Facebook page, Paul Watson adds, “If we were to produce a 90-minute film with a purely objective scientific fact confirmed narrative as suggested, it would most likely not appeal to the general public and nothing would change.” He explains the important role a film has as a driver of the change we want to see in the world.

Seaspiracy convinces people to care through moving stories that encourage the audience to take action towards overfishing solutions. In short, Seaspiracy gives viewers a great place to start adjusting their behavior to help protect our oceans.

Many Claims are Valid and Deserve to be Recognized

Seaspiracy may have some fishy facts, but many more parts of the film are valid and worth discussing. For instance, the widely unknown and most shocking parts of the film deserve the much-needed attention they got; specifically, the many human rights issues largely overlooked. Also, the many other injustices commercial fishing creates for humans, local economies, and our struggling oceans.

a background of fishing nets of different colors like white, aqua, and dark blue

Should You Watch Seaspiracy?

Ultimately, if you still plan on watching Seaspiracy, do so with a grain of salt. There are many ways to find an overfishing solution in the film aside from becoming a vegan. That isn’t to say that knowing where your food comes from and the impact it creates isn’t valuable. While Seaspiracy contains some fishy facts and one-sided perspectives, I argue it is still a valuable film worth watching so long as you watch it with the right mentality. Here are three things to keep in mind when watching documentaries like Seaspiracy: 

1. Adjust the way you digest information from documentaries

For instance, I recommend you watch Seaspiracy as a filmmaker’s compelling journey of discovery. Seaspiracy is a story of what the filmmaker believes to be accurate but isn’t a medium of scientific certainty.

2. Don’t get your facts solely from a single source.

Seaspiracy contains information that is valid and deserves recognition. However,  it is important to get facts from more than one source to develop a well-rounded understanding of the issue. 

3. Everyone Has a Purpose

In this case, the filmmaker wanted people to care about our ocean’s health and did a great job of doing so. However, it is essential to remember that every medium of information has a purpose behind it and could contain one-sided information like Seaspiracy happened to do. 

Conclusion

Ultimately, if you’re trying to switch up your drab Netflix routine, Seaspiracy will keep you engaged and make you think differently about how the fish on your plate got there. It’s pretty amazing how much you can learn and change your entire perspective in only 90 minutes.

aerial view of a marina lot of boats in a port of the ocean contributing to overfishing

While Seaspiracy has some credibility issues, including several falsehoods and misrepresentations, it is arguably a valuable and powerful source of change and hope for our ocean’s health. Plus, you’ll get to tag along with a passionate advocate for ocean health on an emotional journey to find an overfishing solution. In short, Seaspiracy is a valuable way to learn about the many negative implications of commercial fishing, so long as you watch it from a lens of story-telling and not purely scientific fact.

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Olivia deGregory

Written by Audrey Madison