Unearthing Seaspiracy

Written by: Sarah Valliere

Published: 2021-04-10

Because you’ve seen it on Netflix or seen the meme “it should have been called conspiraSEA”, Seaspiracy is all the rage right now. Directed by Ali TabriziIt, Seaspiracy tackles the very real problems of deep sea fishing ranging from ecosystem tragedies to the exploitation of human rights. Watching it was shocking to say the least. This documentary exposes the fishing industry to its core. Despite the accurate depiction of environmental devastations and human violations, Ali’s documentary is in the hot seat right now and has garnered a great deal of criticism. Critics have noticed that many of the film’s supporting facts are outdated, diminishing its credibility. This is not to say Seaspiracy is a farce: the fishing industry poses many environmental threats that are neglected by the media. Knowledge is power, and it is our responsibility to think and act on what we learn. 

Here is what I learnt.

The Carbon Sink  

Covering 70% of the Earth’s surface, the sea contains 80% of all life on earth and stores 93% of all CO2. It is described as a massive natural carbon sink that absorbs and stores the atmosphere’s carbon. From the process of transferring surface carbon to the sea floor via fish and seagrass, every biological mechanism is essential for the ocean to generate 85% of the oxygen we breathe. Whales even absorb 33 tons of CO2 each in their lifetime, and when they die their carcusses sink to the bottom and store it for centuries. Safe to say, we need the ocean and everything in it to survive. 

Problems in Industry Fishing 

With all of  these wonderful systems working in harmony within the waters, it is hard to believe why we would disturb it at such a large scale. Unfortunately, major damage is occurring to the oceans’ ecosystems and wildlife as a result of industry fishing. Ali sheds light on carbon sink draining, seafloor trawling and human rights violation amongst others.


For the fishing industry to meet the massive demand for fish, they use the technique “seafloor trawling”. This is where huge nets are dragged on the seabed capturing everything in its way, leaving a barren wasteland behind. This interferes with the global carbon cycle as 3.9 Billion acres of seabed are being destroyed yearly. This isn’t even comparable to the 25 million acres of forest deforestation that happens yearly. Crazy, right? Fish are not the only ones disappearing from our oceans—due to bycatch 300,000 whales,dolphins and porpoises are murdered every year, along with 11,000-30,000 sharks per hour. With these losses come major repercussions to the ocean’s natural systems, not to mention senseless murders. 
Slavery in the fishing industry was also documented in the film, linking it to overfishing, illegal fishing and global demand for cheap fish. It is reported that this abuse and murder of workers are seen in 47 countries. As fish consumers, you can use the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool and the Global Slavery Index for information about which countries of origin are at particularly high risk for the use of forced labour.


Uncertainty of large scale Fishing 

Now, you might be thinking about Safe Fishing certifications and fishing regulations that are pushed by governments and lobbying groups like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Since the airing of the documentary, speculations arise as it discredits ecological organizations such as Plastics Coalition and Marine Stewardship Council. Reading up on their response, it is a lot of “he said, she said” resulting in public distrust for both sides. The commentary that no certification can guarantee 100% sustainability remains true—out in the open ocean,  anything can happen. However, the accused blue-washing organization Earth Institute and the label Dolphin Safe respond that their efforts have overseen the reduction of dolphin-kill levels by more than  95%. Surprisingly enough, Ali neglects to interview scientists researching fishery stock assessments. Doing a search myself, a lot of radar technology is emerging to track coastal bycatch to establish a more sustainable fishing practice. The sad part of all this is that there is always a margin of uncertainty in “safe” large scale fishing. However, every organism is connected and serves a purpose, it’s no coincidence that while the oceans are being taken advantage of, our climate change crisis is worsening.

Criticism on Seaspiracy

Stop eating fish.

Though the director touched on a lot of points on fisheries and their social and environmental effects, he concluded the only way to help the ocean, and our planet, is to stop eating fish. Is this realistic? This one privileged phrase doesn’t seem to take into account what fish means to different cultures. For example, Fish is the main source of protein for many indigenous communities in Canada. Fishing was their source of food for centuries before colonialism and they didn’t have the problems we are facing. So why is it a problem for us? 

Population rise? Lack of government? These are all true, but it’s putting too much on external power on things outside of our control. What if we need to rebuild OUR structure/mindset of the food system. 

Eat what’s close to you. 

Fish in the deep sea is not close to you. 

Eat what the land/water you live on provides you. 

So maybe the phrase “stop eating fish” needs to be adjusted. For fishing to be sustainable, we can say “stop eating fish from Mass fishing vessels”, “stop eating fish from the middle of the sea”. What about local small fisheries who’s lives and culture depend on fishing and selling their fish domestically. Quick change in our habits/mindset can see quick results. The underwater ecosystem has this amazing ability to bounce back quick

Though it’s not perfect due to it’s outdated sources and privileged conclusion, Seaspiracy did a great job of shedding light upon these issues in the fishing industry. They started a mass conversation. Let’s continue that conversation, what do you think?