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Seaspiracy: an unflinching look at the damage of overfishing

Seaspiracy is such a relentless ride of a documentary, blurring past so many marine-concerning topics, that it’s initially hard to know where to align your activist ambitions. By the end however, viewers will get off the ride with fresh insight into how their actions can bring about change (and a little nausea at the thought of last night’s fish finger feast).

Seaspiracy was released just over a week ago and has already made it amongst Netflix’s top 10 most popular film and tv shows in several countries. The documentary is causing waves on social media with high profile celebrities, sports stars, and activists tweeting recommendations to give the film a watch.

A lot of this hype can be attributed to Seaspiracy’s shock factor, and there’s a lot revealed in this documentary to be shocked about. Advertised as a Pandora’s box of truths about fishing that several big-name corporations don’t want opened, the trailer teases links between the fishing industry, organised crime, human trafficking, and slavery.

The opening of Seaspiracy confirms these initial impressions, setting up the stakes with a montage of imposing pixelated figures and wing-mirror-footage of pursuing police cars – all knitted together with narration describing how dangerous making this documentary is.

So, does Seaspiracy deliver the eye-opening experience it promises?

A documentary for Gen Z

In contrast to the dynamic (and intense) opening, the documentary subsequently treats us to wholesome home-video footage as we are introduced to the narrator and director, 27-year-old Ali Tabizi. The personal introduction combined with filmed childhood memories quickly positions the audience to ally with Ali, and share his love for dolphins, whales, and the ocean as a whole.

Seaspiracy is a documentary made for Gen Z, and early efforts to affiliate us with Ali is indicative of this.

Ali is that person regularly found clearing plastic off the beach. He’s partaking in clicktivism, donating to causes and sharing petitions on his social media. He’s the one to turn up to a coffee shop with a reusable cup, and a picnic with cardboard cutlery. To summarize, Ali is determined to discover the best way to live his life in harmony with the planet.

This desire is relatable to any young person born with the shadow of climate change darkening their future. We want to follow Ali on his journey to discover the true cause of the damage being done to our seas, because we also want to know the best way to help. Early on, we are buckled in and ready to go, and just as well because this film picks up the pace fast.

The first third of the film races past several topics at a speed that’ll keep even the shortest attention span fixated. By the 20 minute mark we’ve already gone from plastic pollution to whale hunting to shark finning and changed location three times.

You could criticize the film for initially lacking focus, but I would argue Ali’s journey to discover the heart of the problem and ensure his actions are contributing to the solution, is one Gen Z can relate to, and warrants their sticking around until the end credits.

The Truth

As we follow Ali down the rabbit hole into the dark depths of the fishing industry, we are presented with several harrowing facts along the way. In a documentary that contains sickening footage of dolphins being brutally slaughtered, it says something about the levity of these facts that they remain the most frightening aspect of the film.

Seaspiracy does a spectacular job of putting into perspective the damage fishing is doing to our planet. Revelations such as 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch being made up of discarded fishing equipment, or the fishing industry killing more marine life in a day than the 2010 BP oil spill did in 3 months stick in the brain long after watching.

When Thred’s favourite environmentalist George Monbiot reveals curbing plastic waste from the ocean entirely still wouldn’t halt the decline of marine life due to commercial fishing, the pernicious price of having fish readily available in supermarkets all year round begins to settle in.

Illustrated by slick infographics, these facts are so damning physiatrists are proposing a new method of detecting psychopaths by having subjects watch this film, then offering them fish and chips for dinner and noting their response.

Of course that’s not true (as much as I wish it were), and there are critics who claim that Seaspiracy offers false facts just as brazenly. The documentary does it’s best to convince you of its claims by giving fishing companies and environmental agencies the chance to be interviewed, and showing its audience how more often than not, these conversations were concluded by the asking for cameras to be turned off.

It’s fair to say Seaspiracy does offer the most apocalyptic and pessimistic data available. One questionable ‘fact’ shown in the documentary came under fire from experts for suggesting oceans could be empty as soon as 2048.

As the Guardian reported, Professor Callum Roberts, a professor from the University of Exeter who specialises in marine conservation addressed critics by stating:

‘It’s not been made for its scientific rigour. It has used the techniques of film storytelling to make its case. My colleagues may rue the statistics, but the basic thrust of it is we are doing a huge amount of damage to the ocean and that’s true. At some point you run out. Whether it’s 2048 or 2079, the question is: ‘Is the trajectory in the wrong direction or the right direction?’’

Does Seaspiracy deliver?

There is a lot I could criticize Seaspiracy for from a film-making perspective. The pace at the start is so fast, with so many devastating facts heaped on top of one another, that you quickly become desensitized leaving the final half feeling sluggish.

However in context of the reality portrayed by the film, these cinematics aspects don’t mean much. Sometime after the credits I found myself contemplating what to have for dinner and wrestling with shocking facts in the forefront of my mind. Days later, I still can’t escape the mental image of a reddening sea.

If Seaspiracy’s purpose was to open-eyes to the scale of damage being done by the fishing industry, and draw activist attention away from the distraction of plastic straws (which only make up 0.03% of plastic waste in the sea) – and towards the true culprit of the marine massacre – it does an excellent job.

The documentary begins with a protagonist searching for a simple solution he can action to help save the ocean, and after 90 minutes the collusion of the doc delivers a final message that everyone can apply to their own life: eat less fish.

In short, yes. Seaspiracy does deliver.

out of 5

Overhyped, but eye-opening nonetheless

Seaspiracy is like taking the red pill in The Matrix. You'll never eat fish guilt-free again.