Seaspiracy, Netflix’s new documentary, shocked viewers with its condemnation of commercial fishing. The same team behind 2014’s Cowspiracy displays the horrific damage of the aquaculture industry on the environment. However, the documentary also stirred up a boatload of controversy as conservation experts accuse the film of inaccuracies. Even some of the experts quoted in Seaspiracy state that the filmmakers used interviews out of context.
The Shocking Reports in Seaspiracy
For those who haven’t seen the documentary, this is its official synopsis. “Passionate about ocean life, a filmmaker sets out to document the harm that humans do to marine species — and uncovers alarming global corruption.”
The director, Ali Tabrizi, wanted to investigate the impact of single-use plastics on the oceans. On this journey, he made some shocking discoveries. For instance, he alleged that Japanese fishers hunt dolphins because they both compete for the population of bluefin tuna. The film also claims that most of the plastic waste in the oceans is from fishing nets. Additionally, over 300,000 dolphins and whales die from bycatch. Most startling, Seaspiracy said that if the fishing industry continues, there will be no fish in the oceans by 2048.
Perhaps the most intense message of the film is that there is no such thing as sustainable fishing. Even “dolphin-safe” labels on fish cans may be misleading since anything could happen out on the ocean. It also claims that farmed fisheries may not be as eco-friendly as they seem since some farmed fish is actually fed wild-caught fish; one expert called it “wild fishing in disguise.”
Then came the topic of “blood shrimp,” as environmental journal George Monbiot called it. This term refers to the reports of slave labor in Thailand used to catch prawns and shrimp. One fisherman said he was abused and threatened with guns; additionally, the corpses of other fishermen were kept in freezers on the ship. 
Can Seaspiracy Convince People to Go Vegan?
It’s a shocking, often uncomfortable, viewing experience, to the extent that some viewers felt compelled to stop eating seafood. Some have chosen to go entirely vegan. It remains to be seen if the documentary’s shock value is enough to convince people to stop eating seafood, especially since the film doesn’t provide any advice on how to act on it. This can alienate people in areas where fish is a dietary staple or where there are few alternatives available. Therefore, it’s more likely that the film convinced people who are already considering changing their eating habits. 
Criticism from the MSC
In regard to the allegation of ‘the myth of sustainable fishing,’ the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) said: “This is wrong. One of the amazing things about our oceans is that fish stocks can recover and replenish if they are managed carefully for the long term.
“Examples of where this has happened and stocks have come back from the brink include the Patagonian toothfish in the Southern Oceans or the recovery of Namibian hake, after years of overfishing by foreign fleets, of the increase in some of our major tuna stocks globally.
“What is even more amazing, is that if we take care of our fish stocks, they take care of us. Research shows that fish stocks that are well-managed and sustainable, are also more productive in the long-term, meaning there is more seafood for our growing global population, which is set to reach 10 billion by 2050.”
The MSC also defended their certification, saying, “Contrary to what the filmmakers say, certification is not an easy process, and some fisheries spend many years improving their practices in order to reach our standard. In fact, our analysis shows that the vast majority of fisheries that carry out pre-assessments against our criteria, do not meet these and need to make significant improvements to gain certification.”
Then came the reports of cherry-picked interview cameos. For instance, an environmental studies scientist featured in the film spoke out against how they misused her quotes to promote a premise she did not believe in.
Another interviewee, Mark Palmer, an executive with the international organization responsible for the Dolphin Safe tuna label, claimed his comments were also taken out of context. In his Seaspiracy interview, he was asked if his organization could guarantee no dolphins were ever killed in any tuna fishery on Earth.
“I answered there are no guarantees in life but that drastically reducing the number of vessels intentionally chasing and netting dolphins as well as other regulations in place, that the number of dolphins that are killed is very low,” he said. “The film took my statement out of context to suggest that there is no oversight and we don’t know whether dolphins are being killed. That is not true.”
Similarly, David Phillips, director of IMMP, denounced Seaspiracy’s claims that the dolphin-safe label is a sham to benefit the fishing industry. “The Dolphin Safe tuna program is responsible for the largest decline in dolphin deaths by tuna fishing vessels in history. Dolphin-kill levels have been reduced by more than 95%, preventing the indiscriminate slaughter of more than 100,000 dolphins every year.” Moreover, he concluded that the film does a great disservice to groups that are “critical work to protect oceans and marine life.”
Additionally, Seaspiracy‘s claim that “the ocean will be empty by 2048” came from a study from 2006, which had since be contradicted by its original author. In response to this, Tabrizi said, “We are not scientists nor did we claim to be. Despite there being some confusion about this particular projection, the overall state of fisheries are in severe decline.” 
The Main Takeaway
Despite the controversy surrounding the film, it’s important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Even the critics who disagree with the message of “stop eating fish” agree that that the oceans are at great risk.
Marine Conservationist Callum Roberts states a conclusion for Seaspiracy‘s critics. “My colleagues may rue the statistics, but the basic thrust of it is we are doing a huge amount of damage to the ocean and that’s true. 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?’” 
- “Seaspiracy fact check: What Netflix documentary is about, and why its accuracy has faced questions.” INews. Joanna Whitehead. April 1, 2021.
- “Can Netflix’s Seaspiracy really shock people into not eating fish?” Wired. Sian Bradley. April 3, 2021
- “Seaspiracy: Netflix documentary accused of misrepresentation by participants.” The Guardian. Karen McVeigh. March 31, 2021
- “Netflix’s ‘Seaspiracy’: Viewers React to Commercial Fishing Industry Exposé.” EcoWatch. Tiffany Duong. April 2, 2021.