MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 08 April) – It may be a common notion that dumping plastics and other wastes into the seas and oceans poses the biggest threat to marine life. But maybe, just maybe, watching Seaspiracy, a documentary on the damage caused by the fishing industry by 27-year-old filmmaker Ali Tabrizi and wife Lucy Manning would change all that. Currently streaming on Netflix, the film has already created controversy and divided opinions on social media.
Produced by Kip Anderson, Seaspiracy starts with a James Bond-like investigation of Japan’s whaling industry, an enterprise guarded like a precious gemstone by the country’s officialdom, police and coastal communities that benefit from it. And, without really intending to – since Tabrizi had only wanted at first to show “how incredible the oceans are” – the documentary ends up digging deep into the practices of the world’s fishing companies. It ends up with the conclusion that there’s no such thing as sustainable fishing, that by the middle of this century there would be no more fish to catch.
For Tabrizi, the only sustainable way is to stop the fishing industry.
It’s the jab at sustainability that pits Tabrizi not just against the fishing industry but also scientists and some nongovernment organizations that cling to this concept – or illusion, depending on which side you’re on. He wonders why these NGOs express concerns about climate change but seem unperturbed by the destruction of the oceans, which, he points out, serve as the biggest carbon sinks through the plankton.
Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution explains: “When plankton die or are consumed, a set of processes known as the biological carbon pump carries sinking particles of carbon from the surface to the deep ocean in a process known as marine snowfall. Naturalist and writer Rachel Carson called it ‘most stupendous snowfall on Earth’.”
“Some of this carbon is consumed by sea life, and a portion is chemically broken down. Much of it is carried to deep waters, where it can remain for hundreds to thousands of years. If the deep oceans didn’t store so much carbon, the Earth would be even warmer than it is today,” Buesseler adds. Tabrizi links the silence from groups like the Marine Stewardship Council, which issues “blue ecolabel” certification to seafood brands, to the money trail. He cites that MSC receives funding from Unilever.
MSC’s certification vouches that a certain company observes so-called sustainable practices such as avoiding bycatch. But Tabrizi debunks it as crap, pointing out that the absence of independent observers aboard fishing vessels makes it impossible to guarantee that no unwanted catch lands on board. He backs his statement with interviews from fishing vessel crews and footages of hapless sharks, whales and dolphins getting entangled along with the target species and being thrown back into the sea either lifeless or maimed, acts of cruelty that could only be surpassed by the hacking of whales in Japan and Iceland.
In addition, Tabrizi blames the rise of piracy off Somalia on the presence of European fishing vessels that have deprived local fishers of their traditional livelihood. It’s colonial plunder happening all over again, he says. Or, he could have called it a form of piracy more sinister than the one we associate with the skull-and-crossbones symbol.
Meanwhile, MSC has responded to the “misleading claims” of Seaspiracy. In a post on its website (www.msc.org) dated March 26, 2021, the group maintains that sustainable fishing is possible, defends the integrity of its certification, and denies being funded by the industry.
“While we disagree with much of what the Seaspiracy documentary-makers say, one thing we do agree with is that there is a crisis of overfishing in our oceans. However, millions around the world rely on seafood for their protein needs. With the global population set to reach 10 billion by 2050, the need to harness our natural resources more responsibly is more urgent than ever. Sustainable fishing has a vital role to play in securing those resources,” it says.
Go watch the documentary and decide for yourself if it’s time you stopped eating sashimi.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected].)