Seaspiracy – the recent documentary on the impacts of fishing – has bitterly divided the environmental community, separating those who believe that the entire premise of sustainable fishing is flawed from those who do not. The film has some serious shortcomings (and these should be robustly challenged) but the urgency of its message should not be summarily dismissed.
Let’s start with the problems. Firstly, the film is almost entirely tone deaf to the diverse value systems that exist around harvesting ocean life and is dominated by a western-centric and absolutist perspective. Other than a brief interview with a Faroese whale fisher, people actually participating in fishing are excluded to the point of invisibility. Secondly, its use and interpretation of quantitative evidence is highly problematic and often wilfully misleading (for example, quoting a two–decades–old study of the global footprint of bottom trawling rather than a much more recent one – which estimates a spatial impact that is lower by several orders of magnitude).
Finally, its frenetic pace and desire to turn every complex problem into a “conspiracy” means anyone whose perspective appears to differ from those of the film-makers are entrapped to appear as co-conspirators. Long-term solutions to decades-old problems are dismissed in seconds as completely unviable. It is, in a sense, akin to the mass-produced junk food it derides; bite-sized, addictive chunks of hyperbole, offering only minimal long-term sustenance for the mind.
Despite all that, the film is broadly right on some central issues that preoccupy ocean conservationists and these are worth discussing constructively (albeit with some significant caveats) rather than immediately dismissing: