Over the past weeks, the Netflix documentary “Seaspiracy” spurred public’s debate. Experts to ocean lovers to environmental activists have a take on the topic. A sharp critique of the fishing industry, the film uncovers many problematic issues related to plastic, hunting, and overfishing. The documentary presents many points of discussion. Let’s unpack them.
Floating Garbage Patches - when water pollution becomes tangible
Floating garbage patches are a collection of debris and trash put together by marine currents. The most famous one, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is located between the United States and Japan, and it is mostly made out of microplastic. Garbage patches, and plastic in general, are extremely harmful to marine life, as animals can mistake them for food, or they can find themselves trapped in fishnets and die. Since garbage patches move, and are formed from a collection of trash coming from different nations, states refuse to take on responsibility and dispose of them. As a result, the patches have been left untouched since their discovery in 1997. Claims made in the documentary about the composition of the patches are supported by research findings. Against the misconception that single use plastic is the main culprit for ocean microplastic pollution, fishing gear makes up the highest percentage of garbage patches.
Bycatch - the unwelcomed byproduct of fishing
Uncovering the miserable and unnecessary conditions of whale, dolphin, and shark hunting, the documentary highlights the issue of bycatch. The term bycatch refers to the accidental death caused by fishing practices, such as bottom trawling. Bycatch is the unwelcomed byproduct of fishing. Whales, dolphins, and sharks often get caught in the fishing nets of commercial vessels, and they are dead by the time fishermen release them back into the ocean. It is estimated that, in France alone, between 6,000 and 10,000 dolphins are killed each year by unregulated fishing practices, putting the species at high risk. Disclosing the number of animals killed by bycatch, which is estimated to be much higher than the number of deaths caused by commercial whale, shark and dolphin hunting, Seapiracy uncovers an issue that often remains overlooked.
Overfishing - the menace for entire ecosystems
The commercial fishing industry is at the centre of the documentary. The film highlights how overfishing is not only threatening marine life, but it also threatens the livelihoods of many local fishermen, who are left without jobs. Additionally, the increasing demand for fish products, coupled with the need for cheap labour, favours the creation of a system of migrants fishermen, often leading to modern day slavery at sea. As the regulations around human rights at sea are relatively underdeveloped, the issues of human trafficking and slavery remain unaddressed.
The documentary certainly raises important issues, and ultimately asks what role the fishing lobby plays in controlling marine conservation organisations. The public has received the film with mixed feelings. Many viewers and scientists are delighted to see such a sharp attack on the fishing industry, but others condemn the documentary, highlighting the importance of the industry for many vulnerable populations. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that the market for commercial fishing is expected to value up to $438.59 billion globally by 2026, and it is estimated that over 60 million people are currently employed in the industry.