The Netflix film ‘Seaspiracy’ has stirred up controversy for among scientists for good reason. BUT the film is creating lots of opportunities to talk about ocean conservation with general public, like family, uber drivers and hairdressers.
In our lab meeting today we discussed the film (I refuse to call it a ‘documentary’).
The film mixes up true facts with misrepresentation in a narrative that one supposes is designed to confuse people and turn them off eating seafood altogether. This message does damage to efforts that are trying to make fisheries more sustainable by having people make sustainable choices in their purchases.
If you find yourself in a discussion about the film, here are some talking points (with an Australian spin):
Overfishing is a global issue and arguably the most significant issue marine life and ocean food production face. It is not just Japanese and Chinese to blame, and its not just industrial fisheries. Australia still has in some fisheries an overfishing problem. Many small scale fisheries, including some of Australia’s recreational fisheries, have overfishing issues. But many nations, including Australia, have worked hard to manage their fisheries better (e.g. the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was designed alongside fisheries regulations very effectively) and many fisheries are doing better thanks to those efforts.
The film misrepresents the facts and tells mistruths in a way that one can only suppose was deliberately designed to turn people off seafood. It is not true what they say that you can’t tell where your seafood comes from. There are many resources to help you make sustainable choices. Making sustainable choices is a positive way to make change, it encourages the industry to do better. There are many examples of where this has worked, but the film neglected to show them. Things you can do include: Refer to your local sustainable seafood guide. In Australia that would be the very reputable one published by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (https://www.marineconservation.org.au/sustainable-seafood-choices/ also comes as a handy app!).
Ask your fish salesperson questions about where the fish come from and how it was caught. This let’s them know their customers care about sustainability.
Australia, and many other places, are laggards in labelling seafood. So get involved with research trying to make it better. For instance, if you live in South East Queensland you can do help researchers by doing this simple survey when you buy fish.
Finally, tell them that while overfishing is important, its not the only issue oceans face. Cue discussion of what you do in your research!
If you get drawn into a debate on the film, focus on the bigger picture. Be careful about debating facts if you are not up to date with them. I’ve met many a ‘climate’ expert who has ‘facts’ to dispute climate change. Its true I don’t know much about the entire science of climate change, its huge, so I can never know enough to refute every myth. For Seaspiracy this page is a good start for a fact check on some common ones: https://sustainablefisheries-uw.org/science-of-seaspiracy/
The facts are important, but remember the bigger picture. Its the overall message and way they are stitched together (some facts do check out as true) that misrepresents what we need to do about overfishing.
Some important questions are why don’t they talk to any actual fishers (they talk to a whaler in the Faroes and a slave, too very extreme cases that I’m not sure you’d classify as typical fishers)? Why do all the interviews with the ‘bad guys’ come off badly, whereas the ‘good guys’ (conservationists and vegan food companies) seem so perfectly polished? Why do they go to all those lengths to investigate conflicts of interests in Dolphin Safe tuna, but not report CoI for their experts (like the book author who owns a vegan food company).