By the resurrected Christ, they’ve let us have another one. Netflix can’t seem to get enough of these vegan-centric documentaries and for that, we should be grateful. The streaming behemoth have already platformed What the Health, The Game Changers and Cowspiracy, among others and now there’s a new addition to the roster.
Ali Tabrizi’s exposé of the fishing industry Seaspiracy dropped on the platform on 24th March to a sea of gasps, opprobrium and approval. While there was predictable pushback from Big Fish (and some more nuanced criticisms from marine ecologists), the critical consensus was positive. Environmental activist George Monbiot (who appears in the doc), was a vocal supporter, calling out the conservation groups in the movie that “fail dismally to tell the truth”.
Whatever your hot take on Seaspiracy, the one thing you can’t deny is that it set off a lively and vital conversation on the catastrophic damage and cruelty of commercial fishing. It raised issues that were new even to those of us who thought we had a pretty decent grasp on the subject. You know you’ve got the job done when even the sternest rebuttals begin with “yes of course there are problems but…” Once you’ve got them playing defence, you’ve got them on the run.
Still, there was a lot to take in from Tabrizi’s film, much of it shocking. Here then, are the top 20 takeaways from Seaspiracy to arm yourself with for those inevitable summer barbecue conversations with your carnist buddies on how it’s cool because their tuna steak is ‘dolphin-friendly’.
1. The ocean eats carbon 🌅
“Red Light Spells Danger,” said Billy Ocean but you may as well call him KILLY Ocean because that’s exactly what we’re doing when we don’t acknowledge that the actual ocean is the biggest carbon sink on the planet. There’s your red light, “Billy” and I think you’re in “danger” of overlooking that. Carbon sinks, FYI, refer to any reservoir, man-made or natural, that absorbs more CO2 from the atmosphere than they release. That’s the process referred to as carbon sequestration. The ocean absorbs around 25% of carbon emissions and recent evidence suggests this may be even higher.1
And as Tabrizi points out, dolphins and whales play a huge part in this ecosystem by fertilising phytoplankton every time they surface to breathe. These microscopic algae generate up to 85% of the oxygen we breathe and absorb around four times the amount of carbon the Amazon rainforest does. As such, any discussion of carbon neutrality that doesn’t place the oceans front and centre is missing the biggest piece of the puzzle.
2. Killing the competition 🔪
That glorious festival of drowning and suffocation they call the Taiji cove hunt is a once-a-year bacchanalian orgy of bloodlust and shark hate that’ll turn your stomach quicker than a Children in Need sketch featuring James Corden. If it wasn’t bad enough that their grotesque death and torture party is enabled by the prison industrial complex referred to by carnists as ‘marine parks’ the hunters kill many more than they capture.2 We learn how between 2000-2015, for every one dolphin captured, at least 12 more were killed.3
Even with my rudimentary-at-best knowledge of sea mammal slaughter, that seems like a pretty shitty capture/kill ratio. It is of course that way by design. They kill the dolphins as a form of pest control, seeing these bottlenose interlopers as unfair competition for the fish stocks they live off. As price-fixing cartels go, it’s certainly one of the more proactive ones.
3. Shark fin soup = dark sin poop 🦈
As soon as something is described as a delicacy, you know you’re in trouble. It might be the maggot cheese of Sardinia, the fried tarantulas of Cambodia or even the excrement coffee of Indonesia 4 you can be certain that once the D-word is mentioned that it will be your tastebuds and digestive system taking the D. The centuries-old Chinese delicacy shark fin soup has long been associated with opulence and prosperity and was traditionally served at well-to-do weddings and banquets.5
It looks like shit, tastes like gash, has no nutritional value and comes loaded with the kind of mercury levels that will see you face plant into the chow mein during the main course. Mmmm, deadly neurotoxin… Nonetheless, the Taiji fishermen hack the fins from the shark’s backs before throwing them back into the ocean like a castrated gigolo. Hell of a way to make a living.
4. Net losses 〽
Who doesn’t hate plastic? Who wasn’t appalled at the sight of Peanut the six-pack turtle, forever deformed into a figure 8 by some feckless boozehound’s careless disposal? And straws! Aren’t they just the living end? Is there anything worse? Actually yeah. Some things are like a billion times worse. That gigantic vortex of shit they call the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is widely assumed in popular discourse to consist entirely of straws, bottles and tampon applicators.
Well, that assumption is as misguided as a man who thinks that Jonathan Pie is funny. Forty-six per cent of the GPGP is discarded fishing nets 6 – nets which are made to trap and kill. Any douché turtle dopey enough to get its arse jammed in a six-pack ring probably needs to get its defective shit-tier genes weeded out of existence but one trapped and killed in a plastic net specifically designed for that purpose? Give that little bastard a break.
As Ali Tabrizi memorably points out, the prevailing obsession with wayward straws is like “trying to save the Amazon rain forest and stop logging by boycotting toothpicks.”
5. Plastic charities are synthetic ⚠
So where did this inept notion that consumer plastic is throttling the life out of our seas? Let’s try the honourable sounding Plastic Pollution Coalition. They’ve been around for 11 years, it’s their specialised subject – they’ll obviously be a reliable authority on the issue. What say you, Jackie Nuñez of the PPC and Founder/Manager of The Last Plastic Straw & Advocacy Program? What’s the main source of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
“Microplastics,” she says, confidently.
Tabrizi, armed with the knowledge that it is, in fact, the megaplastics of the fishing industry clogging up the patch, awares a flagging Nuñez of her error as she circles the bowl, helplessly. She swiftly throws co-founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition Dianna Cohen under the bus (“it’d be great for you to talk to Dianna about it!” “Yeah, thanks buddy – that does indeed sound “great”!”). Before you know it, Tabrizi is buttonholing Cohen on why the important “stop eating fish to stop polluting the oceans” message is not on their website.
“I don’t have an opinion about that,” she says with the stirring rhetoric of a true activist. If this doesn’t inspire you to put down the crab sticks, I don’t know what will.
6. Reefer madness 🌳
If you’ve read this far then you’re likely a veteran of many tours of the eco-content terrain and as such you will be aware of the vital importance of coral reefs to our survival. Not only do their ridges reduce wave energy by up to 97%, offering protection against threats like tsunamis, but they also buttress coastal areas against erosion, are a source of new medicines and incorporate the most biodiverse green ecosystem on the planet, the Coral Triangle.8
You may also have read that the climate crisis is dishing out a brutal pounding to the world’s corals. What is less well-known is that overfishing is also a significant threat.9 Chris Langdon, professor of Marine biology and ecology at the University of Miami explains: “The ecosystem on coral reefs is heavily based on recycling. When these animals excrete, that is food for the corals. As fishermen come in and catch the fish, not only is the fish suffering, but the products that the fish release into the water is food for the corals, and the nutrients to replace them and grow them up again will be lost.”
So if I understand correctly, the coral reefs are literally “Slurping down fish piss with these wet chodes. Total tuna cans. Put a bullet in their fucking brains and leave their wet bodies on the side of the road.” like the girl in the ‘I Think You Should Leave’ Instagram sketch? That’s fricking amazing.
7. The MSC blue tick is cod ✔
I’ll not dissemble, mates. Having not eaten fish for a minute I was not aware who the Marine Stewardship Council were or that their blue tick even existed. I was aware of how “ethical” meat and fish eaters love them some free-range conscience salving. Hell, I even did that shit myself in my cucknivore days. That corn-fed chicken I ate on the regular was raised in a holiday camp as far as I was concerned.
Even so, it’s still a shock exactly how feeble the MSC blue tick is. The world’s largest sustainable seafood organization don’t want to give Tabrizi an interview throughout his film and he finds himself very much unimpressed by their modus operandi. He does get an interview with Professor Callum Roberts who tells him the council “have certified fisheries that produce astonishing levels of bycatch. And those are ignored because the level of kill is considered to be “sustainable” in itself… The label on the tin isn’t worth a damn in some cases.”
The MSC have disputed the claims but Tabrizi is not alone in his criticisms. The World Wide Fund for Nature echoed the criticisms in the film of the council’s financial interest in the awarding of certification.10 With the fees accounting for nearly three-quarters of the MSC’s income, it’s not entirely surprising that the number of products receiving the label has rocketed from under 1000 in 2009 to over 10,000 in 2019.
If they stop issuing labels, they cease to exist on a wave of mutilation. Turkeys veto Thanksgiving shock.
8. Unilever co-founded the MSC 💰
In a peculiar twist, the aforementioned World Wide Fund for Nature actually set up the Marine Stewardship Council in partnership with Unilever in 1997. Although it became independent of both parents in 1999 the perception of the council as an industry-friendly NGO is hard to shake, however vigorously they protest. Characterise the criticism as the deranged rantings of hardline vogons all you like but the council has been criticised even by the scientists who advised them on their criteria when they were setting it up. Jennifer Jacquet, Daniel Pauly et al, wrote a piece for Nature magazine in 2010 entitled Seafood stewardship in crisis, saying how the MSC are “failing to protect the environment and needs radical reform.” You shrimp chompers really need to get your head in the game.
9. Bycatch kills sharks 🚱
Even as the Marine Stewardship Council awarded certification to fisheries finning sharks (a practice banned by the MSC in 2013), the next biggest threat to our razor-teethed fam may still be bycatch by legitimate commercial shipping fleets. 50 million sharks a year11 cop it this way, trapped in nets that force them nose-to-nose with the kind of ocean minnows they would previously have thought of as hors d’oeuvres before tackling a tasty tuna steak.
It’s a poignant scene, right enough. You might imagine a cocky sturgeon trapped in the nets with brere shark all “Ahahaha! Not so clever now, eh Jaws? I suppose in death we are all equal,” before being shredded to mince by his ancient foe in a last act of defiance. Joining the sharks in gruesome death are dolphins, porpoises, seals and seabirds, all of whom will be discarded back into the water as waste. Laid to waste by wastemen.
10. O.C.G. = COD D.O.A. 🎣
As with the indisputable truth that the meat trade caused the coronavirus, the fish racket has horrible unexpected consequences. Organized criminal groups have carved out a niche in the illegal fishing trade, even using the fishing vessels to traffic people, drugs and weapons.12
Much like how when you smoke a cigarette you’re sucking the collective cock of the worst corporate criminals on the planet, when you eat a fish you are fluffing murdering, torturing scum like your very life depends on it. Great work, herring breath.
11. Overfishing causes epidemics 🧪
And while we’re on unexpected consequences, understand too that illegal fishery rings are not too big on sustainability. Overfishing on the coast of West Africa forces populations dependent on that fish for survival to search for food elsewhere, fuelling the bushmeat trade that caused the terrifying Ebola epidemics.
“You can actually stand this up, it’s in the scientific literature,” says George Monbiot “the theft of fish stocks is enhancing or causing Ebola outbreaks of West Africa.”
The idea of learning lessons from history may seem stuffy or antiquated these days but you just know that when the Walking Dead-style zombie apocalypse comes it will be because some genius set up the jungle porpoise trade.
12. Observers “can be bribed” 👀
Tabrizi catches up with Mark J Palmer of the Earth Island Institute, the organisation behind the Dolphin-Safe Tuna label. Palmer speaks with alarming candour on the realities of monitoring at sea. “We have observers on board – the observers can be bribed.” Sounds like an invitation? He continues, saying that the observers aren’t out there on a regular basis. If you’re a dolphin reading this, I can only apologise – this is very shoddy work, not like us at all. For balance, I should point out that Palmer feels he was taken “grossly out of context,” by the doc.
13. Monitoring can get you killed 💻
None of which is to blindly dunk on fishing monitors. As thankless tasks in unholy shit shows go, the gig has few peers. Freezing your balls off in the Arctic Circle on some shitsack rig trying to civilise the kind of fishing crews who would make Blackbeard himself blush is the kind of endeavour to make the heartiest sea squab jack it all in. You could say it’s murder! Not literally LOL.
*checks notes* Ah. Apparently, it’s yes, literally.13 Keith Davis, a 41-year-old American observer, disappeared at sea in 2015. 18 observers in Papua New Guinea have met a similar fate in just 5 years.14 Most shockingly of all, Ms Gerlie Alpajora, whose work as the Secretary of the Sagñay Tuna Fishers Association (STFA) got illegal fishers jailed, was shot in the head by an assassin as she slept with her two young boys.15
I dunno, man. Not an economist, not fully au fait with incentives but I kind of feel like if we are supposed to keep fishing crews accountable, observers need a better pension plan than a bullet in the brain.
14. Deepwater Horizon: fish fiesta! 🐙
Try as you might, it’s hard to find an upside to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. That 2010 ecological catastrophe rocketed to the top of the all-time charts of marine oil spills from the petroleum industry with an ocean curdling 4.9 million barrels jizzed into the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 and injuring 17.16 That’s the human cost. It also killed thousands of fish, birds and marine mammals and contaminated their habitats for years. Even the most glass-half-full Pollyanna is going to struggle to put a positive spin on that cataclysm.
And yet that’s kind of what Tabrizi does here, pointing out that the fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico kills more animals in a day than Deepwater Horizon did in months. The subsequent closing down of areas of fishing due to the possibility of oil contamination17 meant that marine life had quite the bonanza bounce back in its gen pop. I guess that’s just another one of those paradoxes further illustrating the destructive nature of the cucknivore fallacy? We seem to be getting a lot of those.
15. Slavery never went away 🏃🏻♂️
By now, you’re getting the picture. The fisheries business is an ammonia-stinking death racket where disease, corruption and summary execution are an ever-present possibility. It is no surprise then, that slavery is very much a going concern on the high seas.18 By its nature, it’s not the kind of thing which anyone involved is exactly dying to talk about so Tabrizi needs to tread carefully. He visits a halfway house for former slaves in Thailand for first-person testimony from a man who lived that particular hell. The poor unfortunate was at sea for 6 years – beaten, bullied and abused. He alleges the dead bodies of murdered crew members were kept in freezers before being dumped in the sea.
You didn’t get this on Captain Pugwash and he was a shit-sucking pirate. As ever with the industrial-scale abuse of animals, there’s always a human cost.
16. Fish have feelings: CONFIRMED ❤
It was heroin-addicted gun nut Kurt Cobain who sang “it’s okay to eat fish ‘cause they don’t have any feelings”.19 Maybe if he had demonstrated some empathy once or twice in his life then he might be alive today. Instead, he chose to gaslight an entire ocean of 3.5 trillion animals with his anti-piscine hate speech. Combine this with bragging about trapping animals to become his “pets” and you are left with a sick piece of shit when it comes to concern for animal welfare.
Cobain’s twisted worldview was shut down spectacularly by a comprehensive 2018 review carried out at Liverpool University which proved for good and all that nociception is a real deal for our ocean-dwelling cousins.20 Unfortunately, it all came too late for the octopus that was eaten alive in Oldboy. Nevermind though, eh Kurt? This country.
17. It’s the algae, stupid ⚗
Say what you will about eating fish – that it’s cruel, deranged and low-key supports slavery, murder and environmental catastrophe – it’s definitely an awesome source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, right? Well, yes and no. Mostly no.
The omega-3 fats originally come from algae, consumed by the fish. So there’s nothing stopping an enterprising vegan getting their omega-3s direct from algae and cutting out the middleman so to speak. Dominique Barnes, marine biologist talks with Tabrizi about facilitating just that with her New Wave Foods start-up, creating seafood from sea plants. Just maybe, she’s onto something.
18. Salmon farms are a petri dish 🧫
“But wait!” indignant bloodmouths cry, briefly lifting their faces from the corpse trough they laughably call a “diet”. “What about fish farms? No slavery there, to be sure. Furthermore, I can guarantee you there’s no seafloor damage, murdered observers, trapped sharks or rancid corruption. There’s your sustainable seafood, vogons!”
In the interest of fairness, Tabrizi takes their advice and journeys to a salmon farm in Scotland. He finds fish swimming in their own filth, fed on dried fish meal (requiring large amounts of dead fish) and salmon being eaten alive by one of the worst sea lice infestations ever recorded. If the lice don’t get them then anaemia, chlamydia and heart disease likely will.21 Rumours of salmon farms essentially being a fish Spring Break seem egregiously wide of the mark.
19. Bioaccumulation is a hell of a drug 💉
Dead benny hat-wearing weirdo Marvin Gaye was singing about “fish full of mercury” in 1971 so its presence here should not shock. In the five decades since, fish mercury’s been rising like a thermometer carelessly left by the campfire, even as mercury in the air and oceans has fallen. A combination of global warming and overfishing seems to have prompted ocean apex predators to consume more fish with higher mercury levels, resulting in higher bioaccumulation in the large fishes that end up on humans’ plates.22
Doctor Jane Hightower, author of Diagnosis: Mercury, tells Tabrizi “Those contaminants oftentimes outweigh the benefits of the nutrients.” I can well imagine, doc.
20. Eat fish = hate fish 🖤
I know what you’re thinking. As long as we live we will never encounter anybody who hates fish more than Rawvana. It’s a completely understandable position. That caucasoid psychopath is indeed a walking anti-fish hate crime, one that shames the great state of Florida whence she hails.
Her rage at halibut chills the oceans. Her hostility to Alaskan pollock is as intense as it is bafflingly specific. And her persecution of the crayfish would, in more enlightened times, lead to a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning her, possibly leading to sanctions and eventually military deployment.
And yet I cannot in good conscience concur with your opinion. Because you know who hates fish more than Rawvana, who stalks them at every turn, who makes their underwater lives a living hell? Every damn cucknivore on the planet.
Because truly their campaign against every living fish and aquatic mammal on the planet is shocking in its viciousness. To so much as nibble on a flaky cod is to be an implacable enemy of the ocean. To even consider consuming a prawn cocktail is to suffocate a smiling dolphin as she thrashes helplessly on the beach. Thinking of sharing that fascinating article about mackerel sushi? Why don’t you just club a baby seal to death in front of its parents?
Because that’s exactly what you’re doing.
Disclaimer: From a privileged Western perspective, it is easy to rag on poverty-stricken fishermen looking to feed their families in a precarious environment. This is not The Savage’s stilo. He has nothing but love and compassion in his heart and heeds the maxim “don’t take the player, hate the game”.
★ Straw girl did not save the world.
- The oceans are absorbing more carbon than previously thought – World Economic Forum
- Taiji, Japan “the Cove” – The Dolphin Project
- Taiji cove hunt: Japan starts controversial dolphin hunt – BBC Asia
- 10 Weird Food Delicacies From Around the World – BootsnAll
- Shark fin, a symbol of wealth and good fortune may pose health risks: the case of mercury – National Library of Medicine
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Mostly Made of Fishing Gear – Popular Mechanics
- Latin America wakes up to the problem of plastic straws – United Nations Environment Programme
- Coral Reef Ecosystems – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- How does overfishing threaten coral reefs? – National Ocean Service
- Fishing’s blue tick benchmark tainted by ‘conflict of interest’ – World Wide Fund for Nature
- Effects of Bycatch From Fishing – Olive Ridley Project
- Fisheries crime – Interpol
- Disappearances, danger and death: what is happening to fishery observers? – The Guardian
- PNG parliament told about fisheries observers who disappear – Tuna Pacific
- What Happened to Keith Davis and Gerlie Alpajora? – The Cinemaholic
- Ten years later, BP oil spill continues to harm wildlife—especially dolphins – National Geographic
- Federal government extends area of fishing ban in Gulf of Mexico – CNN World
- 5 reasons modern slavery at sea is still possible in 2019 – Greenpeace
- Nirvana – Something in the Way lyrics – Genius
- Fish do feel pain, study confirms – Science Focus
- As fish farms proliferate, diseases do too – Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
- Climate change and overfishing could lead to higher mercury levels in fish – NBC News