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Seaspiracy: The Hit Netflix Documentary That Has People Swearing Off Fish

The 2021 hit Netflix documentary Seaspiracy is directed and narrated by Ali Tabrizi, whose team also created the award–winning 2014 documentary, Cowspiracy. Six years after investigating the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, the team decided to delve into the world of commercial fishing and its detrimental effects on not only the fish themselves, but also the plants, atmosphere, ocean, and human livelihood. 

After its debut on March 24th, Seaspiracy quickly reached the top ten list on Netflix in over 40 countries, as millions of viewers learned about the horrors of the fishing industry. As the documentary displayed gruesome facts about and videos of overfishing, bycatching, pollution, and even slave labor, it’s no wonder that some people are considering giving up fish altogether. One poll found that as many as 42.4% of viewers were considering swearing off fish after watching the show. 

Context about me: I’m what I like to call a “long–time vegetarian hopeful.” By this, I mean that I’ve always wanted to be a vegetarian, but every time I try to cut out meat, I find myself unable to resist the temptation of a juicy burger. However, I know that meat isn’t the best for you, and it’s also inhumane and horrible for the environment. 

In recent years, I’ve managed to cut out many meat products from my diet, but the one product I haven’t been able to refuse is salmon. Whether this fishy food is found in sushi, lox bagels, or simply cooked on its own, salmon has remained one of my favorite foods. However, for me and thousands of others, Seaspiracy was the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to seriously considering cutting fish out. Here’s why:

Overfishing

Commercial fishing is a multi–billion dollar industry. With the demand for fish being higher than ever before, people are willing to pay a premium for seafood. It’s no wonder that fishing companies are fishing more than ever before, depleting the oceans faster than they can replenish. 2.7 trillion fish are caught every year—around five million fish every minute— and several populations of fish are at threat of extinction as a result.

As marine scientist Professor Callum Roberts shares in Seaspiracy, in the 1830s, a typical fishing boat in the North Sea would be able to catch one to two tons of halibut a day. Today, an entire fleet of boats is only able to catch two tons of halibut in a whole year because of how the population has been decimated over the last century. 

Bycatch

Bycatch is a term that refers to species that are unintentionally caught when fishing for another target species of fish or seafood. Bycatch includes dolphins, sharks, whales, turtles, and other non–target fish. Over 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed as a result of bycatch every year.

This is an immense number, but unsurprising when you consider that large–scale commercial fishing involves casting massive nets into the water and capturing anything that gets caught in the net. Inevitably, non–target species get caught, killed, and later discarded into the water. As much as 40% of the marine life that is caught is eventually thrown overboard as bycatch, which is an incredible waste of life.

The Environment

Commercial fishing is one of the biggest contributors to pollution. Fishing vessels discard lines and nets into the ocean, both polluting the water and killing any animals caught in the debris. Seaspiracy cites that 46% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch consists of fishing nets—which is a terrifyingly large proportion. 

Overfishing and bycatch also contribute to climate change. More research is needed, but Seaspiracy states that the movement of fish and other marine life in the oceans allows for the mixing of water. After all, oceans absorb most of the Earth’s excess heat and carbon. With the lack of fish comes a threat of warmer temperatures in both the sea and the atmosphere.

Human Rights

In the documentary, Tabrizi also investigates the effects of commercial fishing on human livelihood. Industrial fishing, due to its reliance on overfishing, creates a scarcity of fish in the waters. Seaspiracy covers commercial fishing’s theft of fish on the West African coast, where local fishermen are struggling to earn their livelihoods in the wake of stolen fish. Further, huge populations in Africa depend on fish for their diets, so the lack of available fish has forced some to turn to inland wildlife—leading to outbreaks of animal–to–human diseases like Ebola.

Seaspiracy also discusses the use of slavery in commercial fishing, anonymously interviewing several former Thai fishing slaves. They describe the horror of their experiences, including being abused and beaten daily. One man discusses how boys were murdered, and then either stored in the basement or thrown overseas. Another man states, “a lot of the seafood we’re consuming today is from slavery.”

Seaspiracy concludes by offering a concrete solution on how to save our oceans: stop eating fish. While we could wait for our governments to regulate sustainable seafood or “no–fish” zones, we could also take action now, before it’s too late. By refusing to eat fish, you can help save the oceans and their marine life. 

For more information, visit https://www.seaspiracy.org/facts.

Megan Chui

U Penn '23

Megan is a sophomore majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She is from Philadelphia, PA.
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