SEASPIRACY says you shouldn't worry about plastic straws – the great disaster for the world's oceans is industrial fishing.
The disturbing Netflix documentary, directed by Ali Tabrizi, paints a terrifying picture of unparalleled ecological catastrophe caused by themultibillion-dollar seafood industry – and legitimised by beholden organisations merely appearing to hold fisheries to account.
Tabrizi initially wanted to explore the evils of the whaling industry in Japan with his film, but pulling the thread quickly unravelled a global fishing industry problem.
Some 2.7trillion fish are caught worldwide every year – meaning 5million are killed every minute – to feed our insatiable appetite for seafood.
But dragging animals from the seas on such an unimaginable industrial scale isn't sustainable, and could soon become a global crisis.
One study estimates that if current fishing trends continue, the world will suffer a collapse of fish species by 2048.
"You can’t continue to decline forever," says Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of Exeter, who appears in Seaspiracy.
He tells Sun Online: "At some point, you run out. Whether it’s 2048 or 2079, the question is: ‘Is the trajectory in the wrong direction or the right direction?’"
Dire dolphin bloodbath
Tabrizi knew he would uncover grim truths looking into Japan's commercial whale hunting – but he couldn't imagine the scale of the disaster he would uncover.
Trained dolphins can be sold for as much as $100,000 to be used in entertainment industries.
In the village of Taiji in the south of Japan, dolphins are driven into a small bay where they can then be captured or killed.
But Tabrizi found that for every dolphin being caught, 12 more were being killed – even though there's no market for dolphin meat.
So why butcher the animals if they're worthless when dead?
"The answer to that question is pest control," says Tamara Arenovich of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
"The fishermen view the dolphins as competition – they feel that they eat too many fish, and if they get rid of the dolphins there will be more fish available to catch.
"Essentially the slaughter of these dolphins is a reaction to the overfishingthat's happening here in Taiji."
Overfishing is where one or many species of fish is removed from a body of water at a rate so high that the affected species become underpopulated in that area.
Tuna is a classic example, with the vast $42billion global industry for tuna on the verge of collapse because of overfishing.
Bluefin tuna have even become critically endangered because of overfishing, driving prices for individual fish through the roof.
A single tuna was sold at a Tokyo market for £2.2million in 2019 – today, the world's tuna population is less than three per cent of what it was in 1970.
Overfishing is the cause – but dolphins are blamed and massacred in Japan anyway.
Gory fishing spectacles even take place closer to home, like the "Grindadráp" in the Faroe Islands, where hundreds of whales and dolphins are driven on to beaches and hacked to death as part on ancient hunt.
'Guess who dies next? Us'
Arguably as senseless as the killings of dolphins is the industrial butchery of sharks for their fins.
This is to satisfy the demand for shark fin soup in China and other Asian countries, where a single bowl in a restaurant can go for over $100.
And the effect that demand for the soup – which is seen as a status symbol – has on shark populations is devastating: 86 per cent of the world's bull sharks and 99 per cent of scalloped hammerheads have been wiped out in the last 50 years.
This isn't just a problem for sharks.
"If these sharks get finned into extinction, the ocean’s going to turn into a swamp," says Paul De Gelder, a shark attack survivor who lost a hand and leg to a bull shark, and has now become an unlikely advocate for the predators.
"And guess who’s going to die next? Us.”
That's because massive reductions in shark numbers have also led to a collapse in the number of other animals like seabirds, with around 70 per cent of their abundance lost since 1950.
Predators like sharks drive shoals of fish to the surface, which seabirds rely on for food.
Without the predators, the birds starve.
And when apex predators die off, the fish they usually eat begin to overpopulate, which in turn leads to their prey being decimated.
Eventually, the new apex predators will die too because they eat all of their prey, and this terrible cascade of overabundance followed by starvation continues right down the food chain.
"Even though people don't necessarily like [sharks], they are that key to the survival of our ocean," says Gary Stokes, co-founder of Oceans Asia.
50million sharks destroyed
The rate at which we're killing sharks is truly staggering.
On average, sharks kill around 10 people worldwide every year – we kill between 11,000-30,000 sharks every HOUR.
While the trade for shark fin soup is part of the problem, as much as half of those killed die as 'bycatch'.
That's the term given to species unintentionally caught by fishing vessels that are actually trying to fish something else.
Most of the sharks caught in nets used by trawlers, which can be big enough to swallow a cathedral, are thrown back into the water as dead bycatch – 50million sharks a year die this way.
And it's not just sharks being killed like this – 40 per cent of all marine life caught by the fishing industry is tossed back as lifeless bycatch.
Prof Roberts says some fisheries are so bad for this that "you would say that this is a fishery that is intent on annihilating every bit of life that exists in the sea".
“There are fisheries that essentially are protein-scraping exercises. They’re just trying to catch every last little bit of whatever’s there, and then they boil it all up and render it down into fishmeal and oil which is fed to fish and shrimps in fish farms.
“It’s converting the wild into the domestic in an incredibly destructive way.”
Some 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed every year as bycatch, including some 10,000 dolphins off the Atlantic coast of France – around 10 times as many as those purposefully killed in Taiji, according to Sea Shepherd.
Even those fisheries labelled sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) have been found to massacre huge numbers of porpoises, seabirds and other animals as bycatch.
Seaspiracy alleges that the MSC makes the majority of its money from licensing its blue tick sustainable status to fisheries, and that it's not practical for governments to enforce sustainable fishing policies on the estimated 4.6million fishing vessels at sea around the world.
In other words, the consumer has no way of knowing how "sustainable" the seafood they buy really is, no matter what the label says.
But even the nets themselves used by commercial fishing vessels are a disaster.
In the Great Pacific garbage patch – a 1.6million square kilometre region of ocean filled with waste – 46 per cent of the rubbish is made up of fishing nets and other fishing gear.
Enough longline fishing lines are set every day to wrap around the circumference of the globe 500 times.
Yet much of the moral panic about about ocean pollution has been on plastic straws – which actually account for just 0.03 per cent of plastic in the ocean.
According to the documentary, fishing gear is the real disaster, and even wreaks havoc before it's discarded, with heavy trawler nets pulverising all in their paths as they're dragged along seabeds.
When such destruction happens on land, we're horrified – but that destruction is utterly eclipsed by what's happening beneath the waves.
Around 25million acres of land is deforested every year, which is roughly 27 football pitches a minute.
By contrast, bottom trawling wipes out 3.9billion acres every year, or 4,316 football pitches a minute.
That's an area the size of Greenland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Turkey, Iran, Thailand, and Australia combined being destroyed every year.
Dead people kept in freezers
Before we can even reach a cataclysmic collapse of global fisheries, lives are already being destroyed by the global demand for fish.
Tabrizi speaks to people forced into slavery on Thai fishing vessels, where 51,000 boats compete for dwindling fish stocks.
"They had to find a way of fishing evermore cheaply to catch fewer fish," says Steve Trent of the Environmental Justice Foundation.
"That's where the inherent vulnerability begins. Most of those boats would not be economic without this free, cheap labour."
Some people enslaved are forced to work for years under the threat of violence or even death.
"I was so depressed I tried to take my own life three times,” one former enslaved fisherman says, adding the captain would scald the crew with boiling water and even threaten them with a gun.
A lot of the seafood we’re consuming today is from slavery, from forced labour.
“On the ship I was on, sometimes they kept dead human bodies in the freezers after killing them.”
Despite slavery in commercial fishing being a massive issue, some of those forced to work for nothing feel like the world doesn't care about their plight.
"People don’t see how we catch seafood, they only care for consumption," one says in Seaspiracy.
"A lot of the seafood we’re consuming today is from slavery, from forced labour.
"I would like to see everyone stop supporting them if that’s possible.”
Problems from eating seafood can even be found here in the UK.
Seaspiracy shows Scottish salmon being eaten alive in cramped fish farms – half of all of the world's food comes from farms.
The problem is that farms require more fish to make their feed than the farms can produce, and they generate huge amounts of organic waste.
One estimate claims that Scottish salmon farms create as much organic waste as the population of Scotland each year.
In the cramped and filthy farms, salmon die from anaemia, lice, and even chlamydia.
Despite fears about the future of our oceans, some experts in Seaspiracy believe individuals can make a difference – stop eating seafood.
Prof Roberts takes a more nuanced view, pointing out that seafood is vital for people in developing countries.
"Giving it up is not really an option for them," he says. "Having said that, we should give up the sort of high-value, highly damaging fish catches that are being landed – the bluefin tuna of the world, for example."
Instead, he thinks we should eat things much lower in the food chain, like mussels.
"If we eat more of that kind of thing, and less of the damaging and destructive fisheries, we could keep eating seafood," Prof Roberts says.
And despite the dire situation, he does say he thinks we can turn it around before it's too late.
"We do need to embrace more sustainable fishing practices and reduce the damage being done, and we're going to have to find a way of doing that," Prof Roberts says.
"I am optimistic though. I think the science is there. We know what we have to do – it's just a matter of finding a way to implement it."
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