Swimming with Sharks: Seaspiracy’s Daring Investigation into the Global Fishing Industry
‘There is real hope here, because marine eco-systems bounce back so quickly - if they’re allowed to.’
Seaspiracy is the latest Netflix Original documentary (released 24th March 2021) to tackle the climate crisis. Produced by Kip Anderson from the highly impactful Cowspiracy (2014), which investigates the global cover-up of animal agriculture’s devastating impact on the environment, the aquatic iteration looks to the ocean to uncover the best-kept secrets of the global fishing industry.
Now, rewatching Cowspiracy in preparation for its sequel, with its unrelenting numerical barrage of depressing statistics (many now in fact debunked) and chilling revelations of the distance the meat industry will go for its profits, feels a little like a 90-minute filmic doom scroll. While the low-budget animations that embellish each point add a touch of digestible content, the overwhelming taste left in your mouth is bitter, and plant-based - hopefully. Nevertheless, watching it back in ‘Post-Veganuary’ times does offer a glimmer of retrospective hope, as we see how far we have come. According to a 2019 study, 12 million Brits (23% of the population) say that they will be vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian by 2021, with the number of people claiming to be vegan soaring by 62% in 2019. Still, Seaspiracy shows there are unchartered territories left to plunder in order to realise the full impact of our consumption on the planet.
Director Ali Tabrizi appears to be making his debut with this investigative film. With the success of its predecessor, it’s clear that Netflix has noted the public taste for environmental documentaries, as more and more people are willing to acknowledge how personal impact manifests in one of our greatest pleasures: the food we eat.
The film opens with a series of punchy second-long clips, characterising the drama of the investigative operation this documentary undertakes, more reminiscent of a crime thriller than an environmental doc: ‘If you are scared of dying, go home’ - Tabrizi and his team will not be made to feel welcome here. What follows is not hugely dissimilar to Cowspiracy: more rapid statistics designed to shock, their effect bolstered once again by animated graphs and numbers which contextualise the data, this time with stunning imagery of the beauty to be found in the oceans, all sharply juxtaposed with the distressing reality of the industries bent on destroying it for profit. The result is somewhat like a horror version of the darling shows from your childhood at Sea World - which you’ll also be boycotting while you’re at it. You aren’t going to leave this film with a craving for a fish finger sandwich, that’s for sure.
The film builds statistic upon shocking statistic, peppering troublesome headlines with disgraceful revelations about the pro-fishing funding sources of our favourite, once-trustworthy, ‘sustainability’ organisations. While the film does not shy away from grizzly realities, in a way that is sure to change the tides of public opinion, what it does unfortunately fail to do, swept up in all the details it is determined to uncover, is give the viewer a moment to just breathe. What is of course important information, is also at times devastating, and moments of stillness in the film would have offered much-needed respite from the atrocious realities of how we treat the world’s precious resources: a chance for this information to actually sink in (pun intended). By the halfway point, I was frankly exhausted - almost ready to turn off from sheer overload.
Tabrizi doesn’t seem to have learnt from the mistakes of his predecessor in pushing its somewhat dubious - dare I say, potentially fishy - stats to the forefront; its title not helping to dissipate repeated accusations of sensationalist tendencies. That is not to say these numbers are untrue, simply that the movement would perhaps benefit from pre-emptively undermining its nay-sayers with more accessible, comprehensible data. There is little time for pause to take in the gravity of these facts and figures, let alone fact-check them. But perhaps, of course, we just don’t have the time to lose.
Not unlike many climate change narratives in film and TV, after having broken you down over and over again with the harsh truths of reality, the doc turns to the light at the end of the tunnel. It ends on a truly hopeful note, one that redeems its overzealous pacing with profound, albeit brief, reflections on the actions we can take to stop a climate disaster: government-level protection of ‘No-Take Zones’, ending subsidies for the fishing industry, reducing, or even eliminating consumption of seafood. As the remarkable marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle states: “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”
One thing is for certain: this film will be making waves.
Sophie is the Co-Founder of Blister. She is a self-confessed project-aholic and tends to keep her fingers in [too] many pies. In her spare time Sophie is frequently found scraping the barrel of her boyfriend’s mum’s Netflix account to hate-watch a new series she believes is unrepresentative and unfeminist, and is much less often found on any of the platforms that produce the European art films she actually does like: corporate streaming monopolies are a bitch.