Documentary Review: Seaspiracy

The recent Netflix release of the documentary Seaspiracy has noticeably garnered mass attention of viewers and the media alike. Seaspiracy is a revealing film that heavily relies on shock value and curated perspectives in order to bewilder audiences. In essence, it methodically reveals the harsh and graphic realities of the global fishing industry that is characterized by extreme demand, mass consumption, detrimental environmental impacts as well as dangerous and violent conditions for workers. In its intention to raise awareness about the fishing industry and its impact, the film succeeds by graphically showing its most brutal facets and realities that are quite alarming to the average viewer. It is beneficial that a film such as this has incited a lot of buzz and reaction and has achieved a platform to reach people in a significant way about a truly damaging industry in the world. However, that does not negate the problematic elements of the film. With multiple pursuits of interview attempt misfires, particular focus and portrayal of Asian countries' role in fishing and the film's other tactics and agendas, there’s enough to question the overall motives and reasoning. Ali Abrizi, the documentary filmmaker behind it, along with his wife and production team, collectively filmed and produced Seaspiracy (in addition to Netflix) but is it having the impact that they had hoped for?

The film initially utilizes a pathos appeal with Ali Abrizi making his love and perspective of the oceans apparent, but how all of that changed as he learned (and was actively learning) about the dark realities of the seas, primarily centered around the fishing industry. Abrizi and his team then embark on a trip to various locations (many of which are in Asia) to find out more about the roots of the fishing industry. Throughout the film, they make many attempts to talk to corporations involved with fishing along with pro-environmental corporations. Though they make these attempts, in no way is it apparent that they tried to make formal appointments with these corporations but rather just showed up unannounced. Any corporation, spokesperson, or employee would understandably decline interview requests or refuse questions when they've had no prior knowledge of that possibility from a group or individual. So, trying to make it appear as if these corporations that they approached didn’t want to talk to them really fueled the aspect of the narrative that they must then have something to hide. Numerous lame attempts at this were made in an effort to further perpetuate the labels of controversy and corruption that corporations related to fishing have.

Pro-environmental organizations are even questioned to a degree throughout the film. It’s heavily insinuated that pro-environmental organizations and corporations aren’t doing enough to combat the real detriment, that is tackling the fishing industry as a whole. Rather, they would just push the “save the turtles” initiative by racking up consumer guilt about using plastic straws. Basically, they’re portrayed as not doing enough, or just the bare minimum. It must be understood that corporations (even if they are pro-environmentalism) may not have the power and resources to fully tackle one of the largest, lucrative industries in the world, that has some of the highest demand and subsidies of any other consumer market. In a way, the potential that this film had to encourage its audience to mobilize and collectively take a stand towards the corporations behind the fishing industry (people=power) is lost in translation. A shift of focus to going vegan, or to stop eating fish all together seems to be more inherent of a focus. Even if there is a spike in people rejecting seafood, that unfortunately is not what is going to save the oceans. Though individual impact is important, with the fishing industry being as protected and instilled as it is, a lot more than a mass aversion to seafood needs to happen.

Another problematic element of the film is its specific focus and portrayal of Asian people being villainized as workers in the fishing industry. It’s entirely ironic that the potential for extreme and violent working conditions of fishing are described (wherein workers may not have freedoms or a lot of choices) and then any person that they interview is made out to look like a villain. It’s almost generalized that Asian people are just complacent and guilty for working in the fishing industry in the first place, while white people of the West are placed into the savior role of leading ocean conservation. In reality, Asian workers in the fishing industry are at the forefront of all of this, are dealing with the realities and possible internal conflicts and many of whom likely stand in solidarity with the push towards ocean conservation. The fact of the matter is that seafood is a staple in many people's diets globally and the privileged lens that encompasses this film forces those of the same station to consider giving up seafood. This is just not a collective solution that can realistically be achieved, as the vast majority don’t have the luxury, desire, or means to switch to a vegan/plant-based lifestyle. Rather, governmental and legislative changes must become prioritized to regulate the fishing industry and to further push for sustainable fishing guidelines and initiatives.

Seaspiracy does not outwardly have poor intentions, but it’s clear that some thematic elements of the film were misguided and ambiguous. It succeeded in its seeming primary intention to capture the attention of viewers. This was achieved, in part, by portraying the harsh realities of the fishing industry and its impact on the planet and the quality, or biodiversity of our oceans. Broadly speaking, there was greater potential to establish and encourage a more effective overall message about the systemic and governmental changes that must occur to regulate and level out the reach of the fishing industry. It won’t hurt to take a step back individually and to make the conscious choice and effort to stop eating seafood, but in the grand scheme of things, it just won’t be enough.