It’s safe to say that all human beings, to a certain degree, are fascinated by the ocean, the largest and most powerful entity to exist on our planet. Home to one million species and still largely unexplored, the ocean has remained a mighty and mysterious force since the beginning of the existence of Earth itself. From its towering waves to its incredible biodiversity, in a way the ocean represents a world of its own, vastly different from the lives we lead on land.
We’ve all watched an ocean documentary or two, captivated by the brilliantly colored schools of fish and the terrifying predators that lurk in the deep. Perhaps we are so drawn to the ocean because we know so little about it; the sea serves as a reminder of just how small our place is in this universe.
However, despite the immense power that the ocean holds, modern technology has brought about an era where we are learning how to control the mighty and previously untameable sea. From industrial fishing vessels to oil rigs to factories, the technology and machinery of the 21st century has led to a dangerous cycle of constant consumption and production. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand that we are slowly but surely killing our oceans, and threatening our own existence as a result.
From director Ali Tabrizi comes Seaspiracy, a shocking and intense documentary about the well-hidden, unexpected threat to the survival of our oceans: the fishing industry. Tabrizi, much like the rest of us, originally became interested in the ocean after watching marine documentaries at a young age. However, his deep dive into the truth behind oceanic destruction exposes surprising, and at times horrifying, truths about the harm that humans are causing.
Let’s be honest: the environmental damage that is caused by the meat industry isn’t exactly breaking news to us these days. We’ve all read the articles and watched the documentaries about how extreme deforestation and cow farts will ultimately lead to our extinction. While this aspect of our meat consumption is a factual and ever-present threat, at this point it seems like people have already made up their minds about going vegetarian or not. Even if another documentary came out about how badly cows, pigs, and chickens are treated, it wouldn’t turn any heads. On the other hand, the way our oceans are being affected by fish consumption is an entirely different beast. We already knew that eating meat was bad for the environment, but fish? It’s a category that we have largely overlooked for the sake of ignorant bliss.
When it comes to our world’s seas, the narrative that we have been fed for a long time is that the biggest ocean-related environmental issue is plastic use. From plastic straws to grocery bags to enormous patches of garbage floating in the Pacific, plastic consumption and its careless disposal is undoubtedly a big problem in the ocean, especially for the many creatures that inhabit it. However, what Tabrizi so brilliantly uncovers in his film is that while plastic is indeed a problem, it’s not even on the same playing field as the real colossal cause of marine damage: the sinister industry of commercial fishing.
The public has had the same message repeated to them about plastic use and its dangers to the ocean for several years—save the turtles, clean up the beaches, use recyclables and reusables, etc. This narrative has led the public to believe that the massive responsibility of saving the ocean rests on the individual’s shoulders, instead of on the multi-million dollar corporations that are responsible for creating and dumping trash into the water in the first place.
Tabrizi’s informative documentary explains that focusing on plastic and trash isn’t enough. The demand for fish consumption has caused severe depletion of natural populations, yes, but that’s not even the biggest issue. Animals that get accidentally caught up in massive fishing nets, ranging from sharks and dolphins to turtles and seabirds, are a relatively unknown victim of fishing known as “bycatch.” Hundreds of thousands of these animals are killed and tossed back into the ocean, all because of the need to catch fish to feed the global population.
There are various organizations, most notably the Earth Island Institute, that offer a “dolphin safe” label for certain seafood products. This label is supposed to guarantee that no dolphins or other bycatch animals were harmed during the harvesting of the fish product, therefore making consumers feel morally better about buying it. However, Tabrizi discovers through multiple interviews with these organizations’ leaders that the “dolphin safe” pledge is in fact not guaranteed at all.
From bribing bycatch regulators to lying about the number of dolphins killed, people in the fishing industry will go to great lengths to cover up the damage they are doing to marine life. So if seafood products aren’t actually “dolphin safe,” then why is the Earth Island Institute, a group that supposedly supports environmental activism, handing out these false labels to any company that asks? Here’s where the “conspiracy” part comes into play. Tabrizi theorizes that “ocean friendly” organizations are willing to cover up the truth of just how bad fishing is for the ocean, in exchange for being paid off by the major fishing corporations. Capitalism, people. It never fails.
Summarizing the scope of the fishing industry and its many appalling casualties is no easy feat. Despite this challenge, Tabrizi delivers a thorough, well-organized, and captivating documentary that exposes many of the industry’s lies and secrets. From calculated dolphin massacres to human slavery, Tabrizi uncovers the many ugly truths behind what it takes to put a piece of salmon on your dinner plate. The film includes mesmerizing but shocking visuals that range from colorful coral reefs and frolicking dolphins, to the horrific sight of beaches stained crimson red with the blood of slaughtered whales.
Although the documentary is morally difficult to watch, Tabrizi is telling the world a more truthful narrative, one that has long been overlooked by the public and hidden by the corporations that dominate our lives. The message? Stop eating fish. Completely. It’s the only way we can prevent the total destruction of our oceans. While the thought of never eating sushi again brings a tear to my eye, this documentary is so well made that it’s convinced me that it’s just what needs to be done. As someone who is expected to live another 60+ years, I want to do my part in keeping this earth habitable. Give this documentary a watch, and see if you feel like joining the mission (and for God’s sake, please eat plant-based meat).