Operation Icefish represented a turning point in human history. Sea Shepherd broke the record for the longest maritime pursuit when they chased the toothfish poaching vessel Thunder for 110 days from the frigid seas of Antarctica to the coast of West Africa. They confiscated 75 km of net and boarded the vessel to retrieve evidence when it sank itself to avoid prosecution. The captain and officers of the vessel were sentenced to two to six years in prison and the company was fined more than $30 million. Sea Shepherd later provided information that resulted in the arrest of four other “Bandit 6” vessels before chasing the Viking to Indonesia, where it was blown up by authorities. Effectively ending illegal fishing in Antarctica, none of these vessels poached again, and this case has been cited by INTERPOL and other global law enforcement bodies.
     During the course of the second year of Operation Icefish, Sea Shepherd stumbled upon a fleet of illegal driftnet vessels in the Southern Indian Ocean. Operation Driftnet saw them chase the fleet back to China, reporting and documenting its activities, seizing 5 km of net, and ultimately securing $1 million in fines against the company and costing the captains their fishing licenses.
     Something remarkable happened as a result of these partnerships: countries wanted to work with Sea Shepherd to stop illegal fishing. Since 2016, they have launched Operation AlbacoreOperation Sola StellaOperation JodariOperation GuegouOperation VanguardOperation Sierra Leone Coastal Defense, and Operation Gambian Coastal Defense. These partnerships with the governments of Gabon, Sao Tome y Principe, Liberia, Tanzania, Benin, Namibia, Sierra Leone, and The Gambia have resulted in the arrest of nearly 75 IUU fishing vessels for crimes like shark finning, using banned gear, using undocumented immigrants for labor, violating human rights laws, smuggling drugs and mangroves, bribing officials, catching endangered species, fishing in marine protected areas, and a plethora of other offenses.
     This is merely the expansion of their earlier efforts against illegal fishing. They were active in the fight against driftnet fishing in the North Pacific, Caribbean, North Atlantic, and Mediterranean and dolphin bycatch in the tuna nets of the Eastern Pacific between 1987 and 1997, resulting in bans in these practices. They evicted cod trawling vessels from Canada in 1993, secured a temporary ban on salmon fishing in British Columbia in 1995, and worked on several occasions to protect Cocos Island, Malpelo Island, Coiba Island, and Fernando de Noronha between 1992 and 2017. Their most famous collaboration was with the government of Ecuador between 1999 and 2017 to stop the plundering of the Galapagos Marine Reserve; aside from busting dozens of poaching operations and exposing corruption in environmental law, they launched landmark legal, educational, monitoring, surveillance, and detection programs. The modern iteration of this campaign is Operation Treasured Islands; the organization is working with Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador to stop illegal fishing.
     Modern threats have required modern solutions, and their range has been truly global: Operation Apex Harmony-Timor Leste led to the arrest of 15 shark finning vessels and three driftnet vessels in just a few weeks, saving the lives of a million sharks. Operation Blue Rage, covered in the TV show “Whale Wars,” exposed the illegal bluefin industry in the Mediterranean. Operation Requiem worked with the Phoenix Islands and other South Pacific areas to stop shark finning. Operation Sunu Gaal busted numerous illegal fishing operations in Senegal. Operation Cap Roux and Operation Siracusa have focused on stopping poaching in the marine reserves of Southern France and Sicily. Operation Anguilla is working to stop the poaching of eels in Italy, and Operation Siso has cleaned up numerous tons of fishing gear from the Aeolian Islands. Operation Oresund exposed illegal trawling along the coast of Denmark.
     Nor have their efforts focused only on species being intentionally caught. They are working to save the vaquita porpoise from extinction caused by bycatch in nets, protecting Hector’s dolphins from industrial trawling, exposing the slaughter of 11,000 dolphins a year by French vessels in the Bay of Biscay, protecting porpoises in the Baltic, and have previously saved the Saimaa seal of Finland from extinction with Operation MilagroOperation PahuOperation Dolphin BycatchOperation Perkunas, and Operation Saimaa Seal, respectively. This is in addition to their legal workshops in the Philippines, Malaysia, Gabon, Peru, Palau, China, Indonesia, Mauritania, Senegal, Singapore, Thailand, Liberia, and numerous other nations.
     If there is one organization doing more than any to protect the oceans from the onslaught of IUU fishing, it is Sea Shepherd. Their efforts have busted hundreds of illegal operators, changed laws, and rallied the international community to see IUU fishing as a threat to national security and the global environment.

Netflix’s ‘Seaspiracy’: 5 Mind-Blowing Facts We Double-Checked So You Don’t Have To

 Credit: Courtesy of Sea Shepherd/NetflixGLOBAL CITIZEN LIFEDEFEND THE PLANET

Mostly true: Fishing nets make up 46% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

By James Hitchings-Hales APRIL 16, 2021

Why Global Citizens Should CareThe UN’s Global Goal 14 for life below water aims to protect oceans and seas. That includes a commitment to end overfishing and help restore fish stocks, something that’s a focus of a new documentary on Netflix called “Seaspiracy”. Join our movement and take action to preserve the environment here.

Seaspiracy has made quite the splash.

The Netflix documentary, released in March, follows a personal investigation into the existential threat facing the world’s oceans from overfishing. But it’s landed in some hot water from some charities and experts for its “gotcha” journalism, dated facts, and on its official Instagram account, a failure to acknowledge Inuit rights.Brought to you by: IFADTweet Now:To PM Boris Johnson: Climate Change is Creating a Hunger Crisis — Step Up to Stop It!1,883 / 2,000 actions takenTAKE ACTIONMore Info

Ali Tabrizi, the 27-year-old environmentalist from Kent who directs the movie, features prominently on his quest to investigate the role of commercial fishing in the increasing threat of extinction to the world’s fish. His conclusion? Tabrizi advocates for an end to fishing subsidies, for no-catch zones to be established to protect a third of oceans by 2030, and for more people to take up a plant-based diet.

The film raises as many questions as answers. What would sustainable fishing look like? If fishing were substantially reduced, what would happen to the communities who depend on it for work? And why, as Twitter demanded to know, did they not call it “Conspirasea”?   

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Seaspiracy does exactly what it set out to do: make waves about overfishing. It’s prompted a critical discussion on the true cost of seafood, from accusations of modern slavery to the risk of accelerating the climate crisis.

So with all the criticism of its facts, we thought we’d go back through the movie and double-check the background behind some of the most shocking statistics.

1. Sharks kill 12 people a year. But humans kill 11,000 to 30,000 sharks per hour.

There’s a persisting myth that sharks are universally dangerous to human beings. But in reality, it’s the other way around. 

Indeed, 50 million sharks are killed every year through bycatch alone, meaning that they’re scooped up from the ocean accidentally while hunting for other fish. The documentary says that without sharks, and the other fish governing the top of the food chain, the ocean’s ecosystem wouldn’t be able to cope. And yet, in total, 100 million sharks are killed every year.


Seaspiracy_00_15_17_15.jpgCredit: Courtesy of Netflix

2. Fishing nets make up 46% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, three times the size of France, is the most polluted patch of water on the planet. Located between Hawaii and California, it’s filled with all kinds of plastic — especially all the leftovers from fishing activities.

But the documentary says that the role of overfishing in the patch hasn’t really been told. In fact, they say that “the whale in the room” is that a lot of large animals you see wash up on beaches with plastic in their stomachs often have fishing nets in them.

The claim about fishing nets in the patch has been disputed. The 2018 study quoted in the film was based on plastic that floats, and did not account for microplastics, tiny particles of plastic that often sink. For the ocean as a whole, a 2019 study from environmental charity Greenpeace found that fishing nets likely make up 10% of plastic waste.

It was a discussion that made it onto BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, with the statistic clarified by climate activist and Seaspiracy contributor George Monbiot.

VerdictTrue on one specific point — for buoyant plastic within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Dolphin Cove.jpgCredit: Courtesy of Ali Tabrizi/Netflix

3. Plastic straws account for just 0.03% of ocean plastic.

We can’t really know this one for sure.

According to the BBC, the two studies referenced in the movie both provide estimates, with a calculation made from these estimates. But it basically comes down to this: Plastic straws are not as big a problem as people think they are, and fishing nets are a far more serious threat to the ocean.

VerdictProbably true-ish.

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4. If we continue as we are, oceans will be empty by 2048.

This was perhaps the most controversial fact.

Boris Worm, the man who authored the 2006 study that this claim is based on, has since come out and said that the research is now dated — and shouldn’t be used to reach conclusions today. But while many have taken that to mean the claim is false, a Medium piece says that although the professor criticised his own findings, he never actually said they were incorrect.

Overall, it’s more about the direction than the destination.

“We are not scientists nor did we claim to be,” Tabrizi said in a response noted in the Guardian. “Despite there being some confusion about this particular projection, the overall state of fisheries are in severe decline.”

VerdictProbably false.

Tuna in Net.jpgCredit: Courtesy of Artgrid/Netflix

5. The fishing industry gets $35 billion in subsidies a year.

The documentary frames this alongside another fact: that it would only cost $20 billion a year to end world hunger. Both of these need to be taken separately.

Most of the subsidies come from the US, the EU, Korea, Japan, and China, totalling $35.4 billion in 2018, according to one study. The UN has previously said that for every $5 of fish products exported, $1 is subsidised.

And on world hunger, it’s important to note that this claim came from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2008. Although estimates vary wildlyupdated research from FAO and others in 2020 put the figure at closer to $33 billion a year — still less than the figure for fishing subsidies.


Whale Dolphins.jpgCredit: Courtesy of Sea Shepherd/Netfli

‘It’s bizarre’: Almost two dozen seals found decapitated along Nova Scotia beaches

‘I was in disbelief … I’ve never seen anything like it’Author of the article:Samantha PopePublishing date:Apr 16, 2021  •  1 day ago  •  4 minute read  •   71 Comments

Kimberly Hayman said she hopes an investigation will get to the bottom of what happened to the headless seals she found along the shores of two local beaches.
Kimberly Hayman said she hopes an investigation will get to the bottom of what happened to the headless seals she found along the shores of two local beaches. PHOTO BY KIMBERLY HAYMAN

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A Cape Breton resident has made a disturbing discovery: Almost two dozen decapitated seals dotting the shores of two beaches.

“I was in disbelief … I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Kimberly Hayman, who’s lived in Dominion, Nova Scotia for three years. “I don’t like to see any animals suffer. I was just really disturbed.”

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While on a midday stroll along Big Glace Bay’s shoreline on Sunday, Hayman said she and some friends were startled to find 10 headless seals — all with holes in their torsos — sprawled along the pebbly beach. There was no odour and the bodies still looked pretty fresh, she said, with dogs curiously running over to investigate.

Though she said she felt upset by the sight, she didn’t think much else of it. Then the next day, while out on her usual sunrise walk along nearby Dominion Beach, Hayman said she counted 11 more of these decapitated animals and began to wonder what was going on.  


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“I just kept taking pictures because I was thinking, ‘This can’t be normal — that’s 21 in total,’” she said.  

Twenty-one decapitated seals were found along the shores of two Cape Breton beaches, all with a “hole in their torso,” Hayman said.
Twenty-one decapitated seals were found along the shores of two Cape Breton beaches, all with a “hole in their torso,” Hayman said. PHOTO BY KIMBERLY HAYMAN

Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed it is aware of the headless seals, though it said Nova Scotia’s Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) is taking the lead on the situation. It’s a familiar incident to the group, as several hundred dead seals were also found washed up near Cape Breton and Sambro shores in April last year. 

In that case, the society’s response co-ordinator told CBC News it didn’t appear like the seals were killed as part of the seal hunt, as their skulls were intact and had not been crushed. This time around, Hayman said she saw no skulls nearby.

Similar issues have also persisted on the west coast of Canada, with headless sea lions found along British Columbia shores instead of seals. Last June, marine mammal zoologist Dr. Anna Hall said she believed decapitated sea lions along eastern Vancouver Island shores were deliberately beheaded by humans, with one incident being filmed on camera.

As for what’s happening on Nova Scotia beaches, Hall said she believes a similar crime may be happening. There appears to be consistencies among the carcasses, she said, reminding her of what she saw last summer on Vancouver Island.


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“The carcasses have a distinct similarity to them,” she said. “While we can’t say definitely that the seals on the east coast have been decapitated by human efforts, it does seem that is a distinct possibility looking at the photographs.”

However, MARS’s executive director and marine mammal biologist Tonya Wimmer said it appears to be a natural occurrence that happens every year to varying degrees, especially when sea ice has not been particularly thick or prevalent.

Though she hasn’t received images of all the seals yet, Wimmer said the holes don’t appear to be man-made, despite people assuming they have been caused by gunshots or other human-related trauma.

“From the images and information we’ve received, many of the holes are where the umbilicus would have been and is likely scavenging by other animals,” she said, explaining how it’s quite common for scavengers to target the area around the belly button, genitals or eyes.

Though there have been different theories about what happened, including that seal heads are being crushed by moving ice, Wimmer said she can’t say for certainty that’s what’s happening this time around.


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“The cause remains unknown,” she said. “(But) for the majority of animals we’ve examined during the incidents we’ve documented, it doesn’t appear to be due to human interactions.”

Hall said she doubts sea ice is to blame.

“I would be very surprised that this many seals would be decapitated by sea ice,” she said. “I’ve never heard of that before. That being said, I’m in Pacific Canada where we don’t have that issue.”

Either way, Hall said it’s disturbing to see that many decapitated seals in one localized region — which she said is cause for suspicion. While she said it could also be a result of shark predation, she said she still believes there might be something more to it.

“The sheer number of animals discovered within such a short time frame — 21 animals in three days — suggests that there is a possibility that those numbers could actually be higher,” she said. “It seems more likely that there is a human element to this, and I would really hope that DFO will take the appropriate steps to determine definitively what the cause of death of these animals were.”

For Hayman, she said coming across these seals was quite an unsettling experience, especially not knowing for sure what happened to them. She added she would hate to see it happen each year.

“I just feel like if this isn’t happening naturally, then what the heck is happening?” Hayman said. “To me, it’s bizarre.”

What Seaspiracy Gets Right About the Exploitative Fishing Industry


The slander against the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy says a lot about fishing industry influence in marine science. We have somehow allowed the fisheries industry’s own scientists to define sustainable fishing goals — it’s a disgrace leading to an ecological nightmare.

The upwelling scrutiny around Seaspiracy deflects from the greater issues it raises. (Valery Sharifulin / TASS via Getty Images)

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Ocean QAnon,” “eco-fascism,” “self-indulgent vegan propaganda” — fishing industry scientists are angry about Seaspiracy, the new Netflix special topping charts around the world, which details the impact of industrial fishing on marine life and the complicity of certification labels and even some ocean conservation groups. The controversy swirling around Seaspiracy seems to center around statistics, but beneath the surface lurk deeper questions about industry influence in marine science.

Seaspiracy is not without its faults. Its interview style is abrasive. It has excessive animation. It makes a couple of statistical misinterpretations and several oversimplifications. Yet the film is mainly accurate and devastatingly detailed, provoking viewers around the world to question the industry values that have become integral to marine science orthodoxy: Why do we call fish populations “stocks”? What does it mean to call them “under-fished”? How do they calculate maximum sustainable yield? Is it really sustainable?

The academy’s response to Seaspiracy was swift, stern, and sloppy. Although allegedly leaked documents show that groups like the National Fisheries Institute were preparing a media response for weeks, the industry-funded Sustainable Fisheries, University of Washington’s fact-check page falsely claimed that one of the film’s source studies — estimating 20-32 percent of marine life imported to the United States was caught illegally — had been retracted. Ironically, they had to retract the claim. Sustainable Fisheries UW correctly questioned a sea turtle bycatch statistic, for which Seaspiracy repeated a mistake made on a Sea Turtle Conservancy white paper. Even though fisheries scientists tracked down the source study, they didn’t seem to read the abstract, which revealed that the near-global figure was misattributed to the United States. Instead, they attacked its credibility, revealing the modus operandi of fishing industry public relations.

It’s fair to say that Seaspiracy cited some studies that can be considered dated or disputed, but it also left out some of the most harrowing statistics published in recent years. The most current worldwide analysis estimated the bycatch of at least 8.5 million sea turtles in a seventeen-year period. Catch reconstructions show total fish hauls as peaking in 1996 and declining ever since, despite exponential industrialization and permeation of fishing fleets. A global investigation of navigation patterns estimated up to a quarter of fishing vessels may have forced labor on deck.

The most controversial statistic in the film is the projection of global crashes in commercially exploited fish populations by 2048. What the industry doesn’t mention is that they generated the controversy. Since the 2006 publication of “Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services” in Science magazine, industry groups have doggedly scolded media outlets for citing it. Professor Ray Hilborn, who founded Sustainable Fisheries UW, emerged as this study’s most prominent critic. A decade later, he would be exposed for not only receiving millions of dollars in seafood industry funding but failing to disclose it as a conflict of interest. While he did work with the author of the 2048 projection on a subsequent paper, this research didn’t correct or disprove its conclusions but rather cited them.

The lead author on both studies is a conservation biologist named Boris Worm, who said fisheries scientists’ cooperation on the second made him “somewhat more optimistic” but explicitly stated that the work “did not revisit the original projections.” When he finally did so in 2016, he clarified that updated models were less ominous but remained “sobering.” Hilborn nevertheless continues to crusade on behalf of industrial fishing, publicly advocating against marine reserves and providing testimony to lawmakers on the dangers of “under-fishing.” His foundation’s Seaspiracy response disputes four statistics out of more than one hundred, all of them by downplaying the degree of the problem and criticizing colleagues’ research, begging the question: Is the film full of errors, or does it just upset the industry?In essence, we have allowed fisheries industry scientists to define sustainable fishing goals, somewhat like allowing petroleum geologists to set emissions targets.

The enduring controversy over the 2048 projection is emblematic of a much deeper rift in marine science, between those who view fish as wildlife to be protected versus resources to be extracted — namely conservation biology versus fisheries science. While conservation biologists aim to restore fish populations, the explicit goal of fisheries science is to repress their recovery. The simplistic modeling formulae upon which modern fisheries science is founded defines the population level of maximum sustainable yield as half of a fish population’s carrying capacity. In theory, this strikes a balance between reproducing individuals and limiting factors where maximum population growth — and, conveniently, maximum profitability — will occur.

This means that when the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says that two-thirds of “fish stocks [are] within biologically sustainable levels” (disputed in itself), this means that most of these populations are at approximately half their historical levels, with the remaining third lower yet. Below 40 percent, populations are classified as overfished — in the United States, however, the threshold is 25 percent. Anything above 60 percent carrying capacity is defined as “under-fished.” This philosophy is not only markedly errant from fishing practices sustained for millennia by indigenous cultures but has become one of the greatest threats to their subsistence. In essence, we have allowed fisheries industry scientists to define sustainable fishing goals, somewhat like allowing petroleum geologists to set emissions targets.

However, fisheries scientists weren’t the only academics to decry Seaspiracy. While received rather differently by marine biologists around the world, these industry paradigms run deep in American academia. Sylvia Earle and Callum Roberts, the marine biologists Seaspiracy consults, represent marginalized ideologies and receive criticism for valuing fish as wildlife, as Dr Earle puts it, arguing that our goal should be to minimize, not maximize, their extraction. This advocacy got her locked out of meetings as the first female chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, advising the regulatory body formerly called the National Marine Fisheries Service — now NOAA Fisheries — of which she says the “primary purpose is to serve the interest of commercial fishing.”

While the pointed message of the film has inspired a reflection on these values among average viewers, it seems that academic institutions, in fisheries science and marine biology alike, may be some of the last to consider them. At least that’s how I felt after a summer researching at UW.

“Looks like we’ll have another urchin-cracking party,” my principal investigator chuckled, planning another student’s study on urchin gonad contents. My eyes widened as I realized she was talking about “my” urchins, whose feeding behavior I was studying in tanks down the road. They were wild-captured giant red sea urchins — Strongylocentrotus franciscanus — the biggest species in the world. They can grow to twenty-one inches from spine to spine and live for perhaps two hundred years. Some of these urchins may have walked the seafloor below the bustling canoe fleets of the precolonial Salish nations. Many were likely older than me. I wanted to set them free but was hesitant to object, as this research project was a critical opportunity for me to build connections and obtain references for grad school.

As I loaded up the urchins near the dock, the marine lab’s program director approached me. I waved nervously. “Thank you,” she said, in her thick Senegalese accent. She told me of prestigious urchin researchers she’d seen in her career simply leave captured urchins in stagnating tanks to die in the sun. “Of course,” I replied. She must not have heard that there were other plans for them. As I reached the other side of the channel and cut the engine, I pulled out a plastic drum brush and began tickling the urchins’ tube feet until they let go. I leaned over the gunwale, placing them carefully in the water and finally came to my favorite — Houdini. I was never quite able to design an enclosure capable of containing that one.

Watching the little urchin slowly disappear into the depths of Puget Sound, I couldn’t help but smile, rediscovering what I had always known yet learned to forget: marine life is wildlife.

The upwelling scrutiny around Seaspiracy deflects from the greater issues it raises. Life on Earth began in the sea, and human life has always been bound to it. We must protect our ocean, using all strategies at our disposal, and collectively reclaim the authority to govern how it is treated from those who profit from its exploitation.

Seaspiracy Response: Here’s What NGOs & Other Organizations Are Saying About The Documentary, Plus Our Take

ALT PROTEINANIMAL RIGHTSBIODIVERSITYBy Sonalie Figueiras Published on Apr 6, 2021 Last updated Apr 6, 2021

9 Mins Read

Seaspiracy premiered on Netflix less than two weeks ago. Just four days after it was released, it had already made it to the Top 10 lists on Netflix in more than 32 countries, including the U.K. and the U.S. Netflix does not release viewing numbers often (or in most cases, at all) but we can take this as a strong indication that the film is getting a lot of viewing traction. The documentary is also getting its fair share of blowback. A barrage of criticism from NGOs, marine biologists, scientists, fisherpeople, fishing industry heads and social media commentators suggest that the film is too (Redditors are having a field day). Below, we dive into the backlash, starting with the responses from the various organizations depicted in the film.

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

Overally, MSC’s statement is rather mild, given how they are portrayed in the film (or not portrayed)- remember that they did not answer calls or requests for interviews and . The gist of their response is that sustainable fishing is very much what they believe the world needs.

“While we disagree with much of what the Seaspiracy documentary-makers say, one thing we do agree with is that there is a crisis of overfishing in our oceans. However, millions around the world rely on seafood for their protein needs. With the global population set to reach 10 billion by 2050, the need to harness our natural resources more responsibly is more urgent than ever. Sustainable fishing has a vital role to play in securing those resources.”

Plastic Pollution Coalition

Their statement is on the shorter end and mostly involves disputing the film’s representation of their funding and highlighting that both Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are members of their Coalition.

“Plastic Pollution Coalition is not funded by Earth Island Institute or working with other projects of Earth Island Institute to support the commercial fishing industry. Plastic Pollution Coalition has a small but mighty staff supporting a growing global alliance of more than 1,200 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 75 countries working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment.”

April 6 2020 Update: the above statement was taken on March 28th. The response page has since been updated with a more complete list of Q&As about the film above the original response, included one about their relationship to Earth Island Institute:

“We are not funded by Earth Island Institute; rather, we pay Earth Island Institute to run our human resources and payroll for our small and mighty staff of 9 people. Our work is in no way dictated by Earth Island Institute.”


Oceana’s statement, fairly concise as well, mostly focuses on their policy victories and disputes the movie’s conclusion- they believe coastal communities need to consume fish for survival.

“We believe people have the right to choose what they eat, and we applaud those who make personal choices to improve the health of our planet. However, choosing to abstain from consuming seafood is not a realistic choice for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who depend on coastal fisheries – many of whom are also facing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. Oceana campaigns to save the oceans for both the people who depend on them and to protect the marine animals (and other forms of life) who live in them.”

Will McCallum of Greenpeace

This article is not presented as a response to Seaspiracy, in fact the movie is not referenced at all. Still, given the arguments presented and the publication date (Mar 23 2021), it’s reasonable to infer that it’s meant to engage with the discussion. McCallum, who is Head of Oceans at Greenpeace, elaborates on the problem of overfishing that he has seen first hand, while underlining that populations in the Global South that rely on fishing for their livelihood must be supported.

“During my time as an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace, I’ve sat in a tiny boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, watching a fishing boat pull in miles of drift nets.  The nets were full of tuna, but there were also dead spinner dolphins, manta rays, thresher sharks and more – a grim demonstration of devastation at sea. I’ve been right up close with some of the biggest fishing vessels in the world, watching as they haul out incomprehensible numbers of fish.”

“For years, Greenpeace has been telling our supporters that eating less fish and eating a more plant-based diet is key for ocean health. But campaigning for a blanket ban on fishing would undermine the rights of people worldwide who depend on the oceans for their food and livelihoods and who are in desperate need of allies prepared to speak up on their behalf.”

Earth Island Institute (Dolphin Safe)

Earth Island Institute, which manages the Dolphin Safe label that was harpooned in the film, issued a statement on behalf of their International Marine Mammal Project, which in their own words “worked assiduously for the protection of marine mammals for more than 40 years” backing their Dolphin work.

“David Phillips, director of the International Marine Mammal Project stated, ‘The dolphin-safe tuna program is responsible for the largest decline in dolphin deaths by tuna fishing vessels in history. Dolphin-kill levels have been reduced by more than 95 percent, preventing the indiscriminate slaughter of more than 100,000 dolphins every year.’

Phillips added, ‘While covering critical topics, Seaspiracy unfortunately does a disservice to a number of organizations that are doing critical work to protect oceans and marine life. It’s no surprise that the New York Times panned the film for entrapping interviewees with leading questions and getting lost in a sea of murky conspiratorial thinking.’ “

Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA)

The Global Aquaculture Alliance, which later this year will become the Global Seafood Alliance given its work around wild fisheries as well as farmed setups, was not directly named in the film, though it has responded to Seaspiracy by inviting Tabrizi and Kip Anderson, the movie’s executive producer to join them in a roundtable debate, a gesture worth applauding.

“In light of the documentary “Seaspiracy,” released on Netflix on March 24, GAA invites director Ali Tabrizi and executive producer Kip Anderson to join the nonprofit organization’s responsible-seafood journey by participating in its upcoming discussion on social accountability as part of its series of GOAL 2021 virtual events.”

GAA says “is committed to continually raising the bar on social accountability through the adoption of standards and certification demonstrating best practices in aquaculture and fisheries as well as through its pre-competitive education and advocacy work.”

What should you believe?

Now you’ve got a handle on the other side of the story. Here’s the gist of most of the arguments and statements: the film raises important issues about illegal overfishing, but it’s wrong to insist that there is no such thing as sustainable fishing and many low income communities rely on fishing for subsistence. Further, the more angry commenters and debaters add that it’s elitist to ask people to convert to veganism, and that the film is one-sided in its arguments.

Our take on the above:

  • If you don’t like the film, that’s your right. However, do make sure you have actually watched it before you critique it.
  • Do your own homework- you don’t have to believe Tabrizi and the Seaspiracy producers, but don’t blindly believe the NGOs and other interested parties either. Everyone has an agenda (and most of the most ardent critiquers make their money from, your guessed it, fishing). Tabrizi’s agenda may be to promote veganism. He is not hiding this.
  • Almost every single headline mentioned in the film has been reported on before. You can check out this Green Queen article from 2019: 10 Reasons Why You Should Reconsider Eating Fish & Seafood– it’s nothing new.
  • The film is one-sided, this is a fact. For the better part of the last few decades, we have been fed the other one-sided side, aka the fishing industry’s story.
  • Veganism is an all encompassing lifestyle choice based first and foremost on compassion for all beings. This includes fish and marine wildlife. End of story.
  • As a consumer, you likely have very little oversight into whether the fish you are eating is 1) mercury & heavy metal free, 2) was fished without marine bycatch, 3) is actually the species you believe it to be, 4) was fished legally and without any slave/indentured labor and 5) was partially responsible for any fishing gear debris left in the ocean. If you feel you can be sure on all these points, then by all means, go ahead and consume fish. If not, reduce as much as you can.
  • It’s taken many years and relentless work by experts and activists (including films such as Cowspiracy), but finally people are starting to reduce their meat consumption. The problem? They are turning to fish instead. If this film helps stem this tide, it’s a net positive.
  • As for aquaculture, here’s a recent report about salmon farming and the US$47 billion in losses the sector has incurred since 2013– remember, the global fishing industry is subsidized to the the tune of US$38 billion per year.
  • The argument that the film is looking to punish low-income coastal fishermen communities is a stretch- quite on the contrary, the Somali pirates segment does the opposite, illustrating how industrial overfishing led poor fishermen to lives of crime. This seems like an easy way for those with industrial fishing agendas to discredit it and on the whole, rings hollow.

Famous last words: Captain Paul Watson

Captain Paul Watson founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and a human who has spent 60 years of his life at sea may deserve the last word here:

“Predictably, the successful release of Seaspiracy on Netflix is receiving some criticism from the usual subjects. That was expected, but it really is not all that important. Many documentaries that I have been involved with over the years have been met with similar negativity and vitriol. […] Seaspiracy as a film is what it is, a message transmitted by a medium to provoke discussion and to expose and illustrate a global problem and as such it is both powerful and influential and most importantly thanks to Netflix it is reaching millions and trending phenomenally. […] Filmmaking is storytelling. It’s meant to be emotive. 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. If some people are condemning it, that means that some people are threatened by it. Personally, I don’t care if there are scientists and industry people who dislike the film. I don’t need bio institutes and P.R. firms to lecture me on something I have seen and witnessed with my own eyes over the last 60 years. There is no such thing as a sustainable fishery. That is my considered observation based on 60 years of experience. Phytoplankton populations in the sea have been reduced by 40% since 1950 and that is probably the most important validated scientific fact to be concerned about. (Source: Scientific American). Life in the Ocean is being diminished and that diminishment is escalating. I’m not surprised that there are many who wish to deny this just as there have been many quick to deny climate change. Change comes about through stories and in today’s world, the most powerful communication medium is film. […] If they [the critics] want to make a film with what they consider to be “real” science they should do it. […] This film despite the naysayers and the critics is a critically acclaimed success and that is a fact. It is a weapon of revelation and it is influencing millions and it needs to be built upon and not dismissed or belittled, especially by people who profess to care about marine ecology. The Ocean does not have time for the justifiers, the appeasers and the complainers. Right now, the Ocean needs activists more than scientists.

Read Captain Watson’s full statement on his Facebook page.

Lead image courtesy of Seaspiracy.

Commercial Fishing is an Abomination

By Captain Paul Watson

There is no such thing as a sustainable commercial fishing industry. Over 2 trillion fish are taken from the sea every year and that figure does not include the 120 billion killed on fish farms. This kill is far larger than the estimated 65 billion animals slaughtered each year for meat and fur. The critics of Seaspiracy are trying to say that fishing can be sustainable and necessary by pointing to artisanal and indigenous communities suggesting that the film is racist. That is a ridiculous accusation. The film is directed at the reality of industrialized commercial fishing. The fishermen in their tiny boats in the waters off Africa or India are not the problem. In fact they are the victims of the problem as industrialized highly technological ships plunder their seas for profit. Traditional artisanal fishing communities in the Southwest coastal province of Kerala have long suffered from the mechanized vessels funded by Norway.

Commercial Norwegian fishing off India forced hundreds of thousands of Indians into poverty with the result that today Norway, the 2nd largest exporter of fish in the world (And the world’s No. 1 killer of whales) is a major exporter of fish to India. By destroying artisanal fishing, Norway reduced competition in India and increased their export sales to India.

Norway is also the world’s largest producer of farm raised salmon. Pirate fishing is also a major problem and many of these illegal operations are funded by companies in Spain and China and untraceable trans-shipping of fish at sea makes it difficult to track fish catches. Who are the pirates of Somalia? Why is piracy becoming a problem now in the West African Gulf of Guinea? The answer is desperate artisanal fishermen forced into piracy by the depredations of the highly efficient illegal operations by Europe and Asian commercial fisheries.

When consumers order fish on the menu or buy it from the market they are supporting the destruction worldwide of marine eco-systems. They are supporting the impoverishment of artisanal and indigenous communities. They are supporting slavery and the murder at sea of observers and rebellious slaves. When consumers eat meat or wear fur they are also supporting the destruction of marine eco-systems and slavery because some 40% of fish caught are rendered into fishmeal to feed chickens, pigs, domestic salmon and farm raised fur-bearing animals. Additionally 2.4 million tons of wild fish caught each year is used directly for cat food.

This is more fish for cats than consumed by all four species of seals ((Harp seals (Phoca groenlandica), Hooded seals (Cystophora cristata), Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) and Harbour seals(Phoca vitulina) in the waters of the Northwestern Atlantic Ocean. Chickens and pigs eat more fish than all the world’s puffins and albatross. This translates into a world out of balance and the antithesis of the word sustainable.In recent years the use of the words “sustainable” or “sustainability” has increased as species and eco-systems are depleted. It is the green-washing or blue-washing term of choice by the commercial fishing industry.

In 2021, no self respecting environmental NGO should be justifying, rationalizing and enabling commercial fishing operations. If they do so they are in willful denial of the reality of the threats to survival of life in the sea and on land.Since 1950, the seas have lost 40% of phytoplankton populations (Source: Scientific American). from pollution and diminishment of the nutrient base provided by marine life. Phytoplankton provides up to 70% of the oxygen in the air that sustains all life.

The Ocean is the life support system of this planet. Yes it provides food (Far too much for us and far too less for other species) but more importantly it provides oxygen and regulates climate and temperature. This life support system is maintained by a crew of living beings and we the human passengers feasting merrily and ignorantly oblivious at the table are murdering and consuming the crew that sustains this life support system.

Seaspiracy: What the Fishing Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

ByMatthew ChalmersMarch 31, 2021

Adam Lau / Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Several days before Seaspiracy was released on Netflix, a response made by the National Fisheries Institute was leaked. Before audiences had gotten a chance to see the documentary, the fishing industry was already dismissing it as “vegan propaganda.” Unfortunately, it is unlikely that their opinion of the film emerged from any genuine Delphic foresight. Indeed, “propaganda” seems quite a puzzling label to stick on a movie that unravels its story in such a deliberate and reasoned manner.

The facts in the documentary are nothing short of remarkable. A marine biologist explains that the Deepwater Horizon Disaster, which spilled thousands of gallons of oil into the sea and saw countless images of seabirds coated in black, dying on slimy beaches, killed fewer animals than commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico kills in a single day. Indeed, the disaster actually allowed fish stocks in the Gulf to bounce back because it interfered with normal fishing operations. Other numbers in the film are so big they really can’t be comprehended, like the fact that humanity kills five million fish every second.

Lex Rigby, the head of investigations at Viva!, explained the apathy most people feel towards fish. “Whenever we talk about fish, we talk about harvesting them like crops,” she said. “We talk about their slaughter number in tonnage rather than individuals.” Perhaps this is one place Seaspiracy is a touch lackluster; it doesn’t dwell for long on the evidence that each fish is an individual with a distinct psychology, no matter how remote their experience is from ours, which can feel pain.

However, the movie does illustrate the troubling ways in which commercial fishing has been sidelined as an issue, even by the environmentally-conscious. Plastic is the favored bogeyman when it comes to ocean pollution, and it certainly is a serious problem. Yet popular talking points, like the murderous flotillas of plastic straws, are more or less total canards. Plastic straws make up 0.03 percent of ocean plastics, and all plastics combined kill roughly 1,000 sea turtles a year. Fishing, on the other hand, kills 250,000 sea turtles a year. Similarly, the origin of the plastic is often imagined to be apathetic consumers who purchase thirty plastic bags every trip they make to Walmart, and yet 46 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of fishing nets. These nets drift through the open ocean for miles, tangling and strangling thousands of animals as they go, and are far deadlier than plastic bags.

It is not an accident that fishing has been neglected in discussions about ocean conservation either. The issue has been obscured by specious labeling and a culture of omertà amongst governments and regulators. The Earth Island Institute relies on captains’ self-reporting when they hand out their dolphin-free labels, which is an obviously poor standard of evidence. Rigby described the way self-reporting is abused by fishing vessels, drawing from her time with Sea Shepherd off the coast of West Africa, “We counted one hundred and seventeen sharks in one net. They only reported four.”

The Marine Stewardship Council, whose ubiquitous blue tick assures millions of consumers that they are purchasing vetted and sustainable seafood, seem to have included the word ‘stewardship’ in their title as some sort of bad joke. The more blue ticks they hand out, the more money they make, and one of their founding members was the food (including seafood) giant Unilever. Additionally, the world’s sustainable fisheries are proved to be anything but, seeing as 90 percent of them continue to allow commercial fishing.

Those invested with the powers of stewardship neglect them. Citizens are left in the dark with misleading labels and glib talk about sustainable fishing for a comfort blanket, while the oceans are scraped and pillaged. Aquaculture, like salmon farming, is not a sustainable alternative to wild fishing, although it is promised to be. Salmon are fed wild fish, with 1.2 kilograms of wild fish producing 1 kilogram of salmon. The farms are teeming with lice which feed on the salmon while their accumulated waste creates zero-oxygen dead-zones.

Like all great explorations of ecology, Seaspiracy highlights the dramatic intersection between animal wellbeing, environmental health, and human prosperity. European and North American fishing fleets scouring the coasts of Africa drive local fishermen to bushmeat hunting, which causes pandemics like Ebola, or piracy, as happened in Somalia. Rigby described these local fishermen as “really the only sustainable fishing there is, just one man and his net pulling up enough to feed his family.” It is these sustainable communities which industrialized seafood has ruined; and they aren’t the only ones. Indeed, mangroves are cleared at the peril of locals, who are made vulnerable to tsunamis and typhoons, and the shrimp farms that replace them are often exploited by slave labor. 

The documentary finishes with a famous event on the relatively obscure Faroe Island archipelago. Communities there participate in whale hunts, called Grindadráp, where locals round up pilot whales on boats before harpooning them en masse in the shallows. It is a gory and relentless scene, and the sea sloshes in Biblical reds under grim and misty cliffs. Here, the movie sticks the landing. Sustainable fishing has been discredited and the severity of human pillaging of the oceans has been put beyond doubt. Yet, even if these things could be managed, the film begs us to question if it would be worth it. It questions if fish and chips are really worth killing for, if dead whales soaking in a Norse lagoon is an acceptable sight in a world where kinder, greener and healthier alternatives exist. Such disturbing spectacles are by no means unique to the Faroes; one articulate whaler in the documentary points out that suffering is universal in global meat and fish production. Rigby described disturbing scenes from her own experience, from endangered whale sharks scooped up in nets in Africa, to lice-ridden salmon suffering on Scottish farms.

In 90 minutes, the film provides helpful graphics, illustrations, anecdotes, filmed evidence, mountains of data, and the opinion of scientists and ethicists to make its point. It doesn’t shrink from violence, nor does it fetishize it. The arguments are concise and plainly presented. Yet all this can be waved away by the magic wand of the fishing industry and fellow travelers as “vegan propaganda,” and well before the movie is even released. Remind me again who the propagandists are?Read More

Corporate Corruption in Global Fishing Gets New Attention

Fish Farming Is Not As Sustainable As We Thought

Commercial Fishing: How Global Food Choices Negatively Impact the Oceans

Criticism of Seaspiracy is Much Ado About Nothing

It’s Time to Make a Big Deal About Something And That Something is the Dying Ocean..

By Captain Paul Watson.

Predictably, the successful release of Seaspiracy on Netflix is receiving some criticism from the usual subjects. That was expected, but it really is not all that important. Many documentaries that I have been involved with over the years have been met with similar negativity and vitriol. I remember the criticisms of Rob Stewart and his wonderful film Sharkwater. And The Cove also was belittled by some although the criticisms did not prevent the film from winning the Academy Award for best documentary of the year. Sea of Shadows was also belittled as was even my own film WATSON by Leslie Chicott and I do remember Lesley’s earlier film Inconvenient Truth and all the climate change denialists with their hired “scientist” apologists lambasting the credibility of Al Gore. And don’t even get me started on all the “experts” denouncing Greta Thunberg for being too dramatic, too, young, and too naïve for their taste. Seaspiracy as a film is what it is, a message transmitted by a medium to provoke discussion and to expose and illustrate a global problem and as such it is both powerful and influential and most importantly thanks to Netflix it is reaching millions and trending phenomenally. It was never meant to be some academic scientific dissertation filled with footnotes and boring references to peer reviewed papers. It’s a film, not some doctoral thesis to be picked apart in search of validation to justify a particular bias.

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. The corporations and those who work for them already know the facts. They just don’t care because they are motivated by profit.Film making is story telling. It’s meant to be emotive. 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. If some people are condemning it, that means that some people are threatened by it.Personally, I don’t care if there are scientists and industry people who dislike the film. I don’t need biostitutes and P.R. firms to lecture me on something I have seen and witnessed with my own eyes over the last 60 years. There is no such thing as a sustainable fishery. That is my considered observation based on 60 years of experience. Phytoplankton populations in the sea have been reduced by 40% since 1950 and that is probably the most important validated scientific fact to be concerned about. (Source:…/phytoplankton…/

Life in the Ocean is being diminished and that diminishment is escalating. I’m not surprised that there are many who wish to deny this just as there have been many quick to deny climate change.Change comes about through stories and in today’s world, the most powerful communication medium is film. Lucy and Ali Tabrizi are telling an important story and it’s a great deal to tell in a mere 90 minutes. I would have liked to have seen more details, but more tends to be difficult when making a film because there always tends to be too much material and too little time. Seaspiracy is a hit and it is reaching millions and Ali and Lucy Tabrizi have done a wonderful job in a project that I have actively been involved with for the last few years and proud to be associated with as I’m sure Captain Peter Hammarstedt and Dr. Sylvia Earle are as well. Fisheries consultant Francisco Blaha amusingly generalized the filmmakers by stating that the film has a tendency to generalize. He tweeted, “I’m over the set up where the ‘bad guys’ are predominantly Asian, the ‘victims’ predominantly black/brown, and the ‘good guys’ talking about it and saving the ocean are predominantly white.”Blaha admits in a tweet that he actually did not see the entire film and his bias is apparent in his job title as “fisheries consultant” to industrialized fishing corporations. In the film the bad guys are not predominantly Asian. The film focus is on European as well as Asian fishermen and shows how artisanal fishing communities in Africa are being devastated by industrialized fishing. Industrialized fishing corporations are the bad guys. His assertion that those in the film are predominantly white males is also incorrect. The film was made by a man of Middle Eastern background and a woman – Lucy Tabrizi and features the voices of Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Jane Hightower, Tamara Arenovich, Lori Marino and Lamya Essemlali amongst others. As for Sea Shepherd, we are working hand in hand with African and Latin American nations to oppose Asian AND European exploitation of the waters of these nations. We are in fact working with and for African and Central and South America nations. This means we are working in opposition to the industry that Blaha consults for. In 2019, Blaha was the winner of the 2019 World Seafood Champion Award which is all we need to know to understand his bias

This film by Ali and Lucy is their project, it is their voice and they have every right to tell their story the way they wish to tell their story. If the critics don’t like it they should take up the challenge and make their own film. In fact, that is the only valid response. All this chatter and pooh-poohing of a film they happen to not like is irrelevant and meaningless.If they want to make a film with what they consider to be “real” science they should do it. It’s easy to be a critic, easy to slam the work and creativity of others. If there is a film they would rather see produced, one that meets with their approval they should just shut up and make it.

Farley Mowat wrote and made a TV series Sea of Slaughter a few decades ago. Solid science it was indeed yet it was dismissed by industry and restricted to the limited audience of the CBC and he was also told that he was not delivering his message properly meaning he should be doing it by not offending anyone. He warned us years ago about what was happening yet nothing changed and things became much worse.

This film despite the naysayers and the critics is a critically acclaimed success and that is a fact. It is a weapon of revelation and it is influencing millions and it needs to be built upon and not dismissed or belittled, especially by people who profess to care about marine ecology. The Ocean does not have time for the justifiers, the appeasers and the complainers. Right now, the Ocean needs activists more than scientists.…

Let’s Not be Fooled by the Crocodile Tears of the Corporate Fishing Industry

By Captain Paul Watson

The corporate industrialized fishing interests as expected are working overtime in their attempts to discredit Seaspiracy. They are cherry picking the science and trying to suggest that industrial fishing is both sustainable and necessary. It’s not.Commercial industrialized fishing is not sustainable. It exists because of billions of dollars of government subsidies to prop it up. Remove the subsidies and the entire industry, an industry based on short term profit for short term gain will collapse.This film Seaspiracy is not directed at artisanal or indigenous fishing. In fact artisanal and indigenous fishing communities are being diminished and destroyed by corporate fishing. There are some positives. Kudos to Alaska for banning fish farms and for the hatcheries that support the wild salmon runs but this is an exception to the norm.For the most part the sea is being strangled of life by the super trawlers, the bottom trawlers, the huge seiners, the long-liners, the gill netters and by aquaculture.The situation is serious. It involves slavery, it promotes high seas piracy, it scours the sea bottom, it pollutes the marine environment with millions of tons of discarded plastic fishing debris.Corporate fishing is a global scheme of short term investment for short term gain and the fact is that coral reefs are dying, plastic is choking the depths, fish populations are being dangerously depleted and phytoplankton populations have been diminished by 40% since 1950 and phytoplankton produces more oxygen and sequesters more CO2 than all the trees and plants on land.How can it be justified for an endangered fish (Antarctic toothfish) to be caught and transported across the globe to be sold as Chilean sea bass in restaurants in Denver, Paris or a hundred other different cities? How can it be justified to feed millions of fish every year to pigs, chickens, farm raised salmon, cats and fur farms? How can it be justified to wipe out the herring runs off British Columbia to feed salmon in cages or to destroy seals in Canada or dolphins in Japan as scapegoats for the excessive greed of the fishing industry. I was raised in an Eastern Canadian fishing village in the Fifties and I have witnessed this steady diminishment of life in the sea and the astonishing ability of humanity to adapt and accept this diminishment. I have spent more than a half a century at sea in all the world’s oceans and I have seen the death, the destruction, the pollution and the greed.I don’t care what propaganda the industry and its enablers spread or how many biostitutes they hire to justify their greed. The fact is that a super trawler is an abomination against nature, a 100-mile long gill net or longliner is a weapon of mass ecological destruction and government subsidies are the evidence that worldwide, many governments are willingly complicit in the extermination of marine life and the collapse of marine eco-systems.I have seen with my own eyes the heart-breaking devastation of the Great Barrier Reef. We pulled one gill net from one ship (Thunder) from the depth of 2 kilometers off the coast of Antarctica that was 72 kilometers long and weighed 70 tons. We seized a drift net in the North Pacific that was over 100 miles in length and I’ve seen and smelt the bodies of a quarter of a million salmon rotting on the beach in Chile. Sustainable fishing is a myth and slapping the word onto a can of tuna claiming that no dolphins died is a blatant lie. And what about the tuna? 90% of Bluefin tuna populations have been eradicated? We massacre 70 million sharks a year primarily for their fins for a soup that has zero nutrition and then we complain when an average of five people die from shark attacks per year, a number lower than that of 40 people on average that die each year from falling from a skateboard. The fishing industry is driven by the politics and the economics of extinction. The more scarce the fish, the greater the demand and thus the greater the profit and there is almost a universal lack of economic or political will to police the high seas and to crack down on the poachers, the quota exceeders, the by-catch wasters and the corporate cartels that finance and control them. Predictably the industry trots out images of traditional fishermen, usually artisanal fishing communities implying that it is these hard-working individuals that we are seeking to shut down when it is the industrialized fishing operations that have been devastating artisanal and indigenous fishing communities around the world. After a long lifetime of voyages and campaigns and tens of thousands of sea miles, I have realized a truth and a reality that the industry works hard to ignore, discredit and deny. That truth is that life in the Ocean is being diminished and the very fact that we have lost 40% of our oxygen producing phytoplankton bodes darkly ill for the future of humanity. This is the reality. When the Ocean dies, we die with it.Note: For those who will surely try to claim that I am exaggerating about phytoplankton diminishment, here is a source for reference: (1) Source: Scientific American. Phytoplankton Population Drops 40 percent Since 1950 by Lauren Morello 2010.

Seaspiracy: The 7 biggest claims from the new documentary

As Netflix’s newest sustainability documentary racks up views, Sophie Gallagher looks at the biggest takeaways from the 90-minute film on fishing, marine destruction and modern slavery

4 days ago 5 comments


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he internet is home to tens of thousands of documentaries on everything from cat killers to Fyre festival, but some manage to cut through the noise, change the conversation and get people thinking differently. Just as Blackfish did in 2013 on animals in captivity, then Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret in 2014 on meat farming, now Netflix presents the 2021 version – Seaspiracy.

From the co-creators of Cowspiracy, this documentary on the fishing industry breaks new ground on the conversation around what it really means for seafood to be sustainable. It examines global fisheries, and shows how while many of us have been distracted by the problems caused by land agriculture, there was another problem brewing in our waters.

Travelling across the world from the Faroe Islands, to Thailand, Japan and Scotland, filmmaker and narrator Ali Tabrizi (and his partner) chart a journey from a childhood love of the ocean to pulling back the curtain on some of the biggest problems it faces, and whether those tasked with caring for it are really the stewards the public believe they are.

Here are the seven biggest lessons The Independent learned from the documentary that will shape the way we see fish forever.

Plastic is a problem for our seas

The documentary opens with all-too-familiar headlines of whales and other sea animals being washed up on beaches, their stomachs filled with plastic. As well as snapshots of highly-publicised campaigns about reducing the amount of plastic humans contribute to the ocean – in particular, cotton buds, straws and plastic bottles.

Tabrizi says: “There is a garbage truck load of plastic dumped every minute into the ocean and over 150 billion tonnes of microplastics are already there – they [the microplastics] now outnumber the stars in the milky way.” So far, nothing we don’t already know or haven’t seen in a David Attenborough documentary.

But it is not necessarily the plastic you might imagine

Given the amount of attention given to reducing household or personal plastic use and government campaigns to ban plastic cotton buds, straws and drinks stirrers, it is only fair that the public would see these as the greatest threats to the marine environment.

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But Seaspiracy argues that actually one of the biggest plastic deposits are byproducts of commercial fishing, such as nets, claiming 46 per cent of waste in the great pacific garbage patch [a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean, also known as the Pacific trash vortex] is made up of fishing nets, while plastic straws only account for 0.03 per cent of plastic entering the ocean. And long-line fishing sets down enough lines to wrap around the planet 500 times every day.


Environmentalist George Monbiot says: “Discarded fishing nets are far more dangerous for marine life than our plastic straws because they are designed to kill.”

It also claims that while 1,000 turtles are killed by plastic in the oceans, 250,000 sea turtles are captured, injured or killed by fishing vessels. Professor Calumn Roberts, a marine scientist, claims that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 actually “benefited” marine life because “large areas were closed to fishing” giving the oceans a “respite”.

Bycatch is a huge problem caused by fishing

Bycatch is the fish or other mammals unintentionally caught when fishermen are trying to catch a target fish – for example, catching dolphins in nets designed for tuna fishing. Some of this bycatch is killed instantly but even that which is thrown back into the sea, it says is unlikely to survive. The film suggests that as many as 50 million sharks are caught annually as bycatch.about:blankabout:blank✕

Captain Peter Hammarstedt, from the Sea Shepherd nonprofit conservation society, says: “One of the most shocking things that most people don’t realise is that the greatest threat to whales and dolphins is commercial fishing. Over 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed every single year as a bycatch of industrial fishing.” Sea Shepherd also claims that up to 10,000 dolphins are caught in the Atlantic, off the west coast of France, every year during fishing.

Not only is this problematic in terms of destroying species but also for the climate, because whales and dolphins play a crucial role in fertilising phytoplankton in the sea, which Seaspiracy says absorbs four times as much carbon dioxide as the Amazon rainforest, and generates 85 per cent of all oxygen on earth. 


Labels aren’t all they are cracked up to be

If you are reassuring yourself that your seafood consumption is not harming dolphins as bycatch – or any other marine life – because it has the ‘dolphin safe’ label on the tin, or the Marine Stewardship Council labels, then Seaspiracy urges consumers to think again.Top Articles

Asked whether he could guarantee that every can of fish labelled ‘dolphin safe’ is actually so, Mark J. Palmer of the Earth Island Institute, in charge of the dolphin safe program, says: “No – nobody can [guarantee the product is dolphin safe] – once you’re out there in the ocean. How do you know what they’re doing? We have observers on board but the observers can be bribed and are not out on a regular basis.”

However in a followup statement on their website, Palmer has clarified: “When asked whether we could guarantee that no dolphins were ever killed in any tuna fishery anywhere in the world, I answered that there are no guarantees in life, but that by drastically reducing the number of vessels intentionally chasing and netting dolphins as well as other regulations in place, that the number of dolphins that are killed is very low. 

We have observers on board but the observers can be bribed and are not out on a regular basis

“The film took my statement out of context to suggest that there is no oversight and we don’t know whether dolphins are being killed. This is simply not true.

“The bottom line is that the Dolphin Safe label and fishing restrictions save dolphin lives. Yes, commercial fishing is out of control in many cases worldwide.  But canned Dolphin Safe tuna is far more protective of dolphins and target fish stocks than the vast majority of other fisheries.”

A spokesperson for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) added in defence of its own certification labels: “This certification process is not carried out by the MSC – it is independent of us and carried out by expert assessment bodies. It is an entirely transparent process and NGOs and others have multiple opportunities to provide input. All our assessments can be viewed online at Track a Fishery. Only fisheries that meet the rigorous requirements of our Standard get certified. 


“Contrary to what the film-makers say, certification is not an easy process, and some fisheries spend many years improving their practices in order to reach our standard. In fact, our analysis shows that the vast majority of fisheries that carry out pre-assessments against our criteria, do not meet these and need to make significant improvements to gain certification.”

Sustainable is not a defined term in seafood

As well as raising questions over labels such as ‘dolphin safe’ the film also asks whether there is any way that fishing can be sustainable or any type of fish we can eat that is not as bad for the oceans as large-scale commercial fishing. But much of the documentary seems to suggest sustainability is still too much of a grey term to be useful.

María José Cornax is the fisheries campaigns manager for Oceana Europe, a nonprofit ocean conservation organisation, says: “There is not a definition of sustainability as a whole for fisheries…The consumer cannot assess right not properly what fish is sustainable and what is not. The consumer cannot make an informed decision right now.”

There will be practically empty oceans by 2048

Dr Sylvia Alice Earle, an American marine biologist, explorer, author, and lecturer, says; “The estimate is by middle of 21st century if we keep taking wild fish at the level we are today there won’t be enough fish to catch,” predicting virtually empty oceans by by as soon as 2048.

Seaspiracy claims fishing catches up to 2.7 trillion fish per year, or 5,000,000 every single minute, and says that no industry on earth has killed as many mammals. It also highlights the problems generated by fishing methods such as bottom trawling [a method of fishing that involves dragging heavy weighted nets across the sea floor], which it claims wipes out an estimated 3.9 billion acres of sea floor per year.

Farming not the answer

The programme presents the option of farming as an alternative to catching wild fish from the seas. But on a visit to a salmon farm in Scotland, it reveals the problems of breeding in captivity such as illness, lice, and waste production.

It says that each salmon farm produces as much organic waste as 20,000 people and that the Scottish salmon industry produces organic waste equivalent to the entire population of Scotland each year. It also claims that as a result of shrimp and prawn farming, 38 per cent of the world’s mangrove forests have been destroyed.


Slavery at sea is a massive problem

George Monbiot makes the comparison to “blood diamonds” when talking about the human impact of fisheries on the labour market, saying that slavery is still used on boats.

The documentary makes a comparison between the number of American soldiers that died during five years of the Iraq War – 4,500 – to the reported 360,000 deaths of fish workers during the same period. Captain Hammarstedt from Sea Shepherd says: “[It is] the same criminal groups behind drug trafficking and human trafficking.”

Former fishermen are interviewed at a safehouse in Thailand and claim that they were kept on boats for years – one says he was at sea for a decade – living in squalid conditions, facing death threats and being held at gunpoint. One claimed the ship’s captain kept dead bodies of other sailors in the freezer on board.

As well as human misery in the form of slavery – the documentary also makes the connection between the destruction of local fishing communities and people in poor communities being driven to subsistence on the land, eating more bush meat and land mammals, where fish is in short supply. The documentary makes the link between this increase and the outbreak of Ebola in west Africa.


The best thing you can do is stop eating fish

Although the documentary does explore different options – such as eating more sustainable fish or only fish from farms rather than from the wild – it concludes that the “best thing to do for marine ecosystems is not eat fish” at all. It also says that there should be established “no take zones” for fishing around the world in order to preserve underwater habitats.

It says that long-held beliefs that fish do not feel pain or are not intelligent enough to be fearful is unfounded, and that other reasons to avoid fish include the heavy contamination of industrial pollutants – including mercury, heavy metals and dioxins.

As far as Seaspiracy is concerned, fish should be off the menu altogether. 

But MSC says: “Sustainable fishing does exist and helps protect our oceans…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. 

“While we disagree with much of what the Seaspiracy documentary-makers say, one thing we do agree with is that there is a crisis of overfishing in our oceans. However, millions around the world rely on seafood for their protein needs. With the global population set to reach 10 billion by 2050, the need to harness our natural resources more responsibly is more urgent than ever. Sustainable fishing has a vital role to play in securing those resources.”