Upon hearing about the new Netflix documentary, Seaspiracy, I promptly added it to my weekend watch list. And let me tell you… it did not disappoint.
The revealing documentary, directed and narrated by British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi, provided immense insight into the commercial fishing industry. Its shocking impact on our marine life and eco-systems reinvigorated my passion for helping the planet (and I bet it’ll reinvigorate yours, too!).
The film is jam-packed with interesting information, but here are five facts that surprised me the most.
5 Surprising Facts I Learned from Watching ‘Seaspiracy’
1. 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Made Up of Fishing Nets
When most people think about the swirling mass of waste in the ocean—aka the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—they think of plastic. Plastic straws, bottles, bags, and beyond. And while it’s important to minimize our plastic usage, Seaspiracy brings to light the fact that the overwhelming danger to our marine life isn’t plastic straws, which only account for 0.03 percent of plastic entering the oceans. It’s fishing nets.
2. Commercial Fishing Is a Greater Threat to Marine Life Than We May Realize
So, where do those fishing nets come from? Commercial fishing. In the film, Captain Peter Hammarstedt of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society shares over 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed per year as a result of by-catch. The documentary also references an alarming fact: Globally, only 1,000 sea turtle deaths per year are caused by plastic, while in the United States alone, 250,000 sea turtles are captured, injured, or killed every year by fishing vessels.
Even more shocking, this type of fishing is actually more dangerous than oil spills. Tabrizi speaks with Callum Roberts, professor of Marine Conservation at the University of Exeter, who says “the fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico destroys more animals in a day than the Deepwater Horizon oil spill did in months.”
3. The Demand for Marine Entertainment Is Killing Dolphins
While the purpose of commercial fishing is mainly to collect sea life to eat, there’s also a demand to capture sea life for entertainment (think aquariums and amusement parks). Much of this capturing is done in Taiji, Japan, where from 2000-2015, 12 dolphins were unnecessarily killed for every one dolphin captured.
“The fisherman view the dolphins as competition,” says Tamara Arenovich of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. “They feel that they eat too many fish and if they get rid of the dolphins, there will be more fish available for them to catch. Essentially, the slaughter of these dolphins is a reaction to the overfishing that is happening in Taiji.”
4. Slavery Helps Fuel the Seafood Industry
So, you’re probably wondering: Who is it that’s catching all this sea life? Well, often times, it involves forced labor. In the film, Steve Trent of the Environmental Justice Foundation shares “slavery at sea is a massive problem.” While difficult to share precise figures given the elusive nature of the practice, Tabrizi interviewed former slaves (taking precautions to protect their identities) about their experiences. Shared are harrowing tales of abuse, and even murder. While it’s a particularly difficult part of the film to digest, it certainly offers an invaluable perspective on the fishing industry.
5. The Most Impactful Action You Can Take Is Reducing Seafood Consumption
If the film leaves you with an unwavering desire to take action (and it probably will), then the first step you can take is to reduce your seafood consumption. If the demand for seafood lessens, so does commercial fishing.
Of course, if you’re worried about missing the taste or even the nutrition provided by seafood, Seaspiracy assures viewers there’s no need to worry: You can get those omega-3s elsewhere. “People don’t realize fish don’t make omega-3 fatty acids—it’s the algae cells that are making the omega-3 fats, and the fish swallow the algae cells,” says Dr. Michael Klaper, a Physician at TrueNorth Health Center. So, in theory, you could simply eat the algae to get the nutritional benefits.
So, What If You Still Want to Buy Seafood?
If you do shop for seafood, the best thing you can do is look for something that’s more wildlife-friendly. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, for instance, helps consumers choose more environmentally sustainable seafood. With that being said, don’t trust every certification you come across, as many are being questioned by the documentary.
After selecting the seafood species, you can see the best choices, certified choices, good alternatives, and options to completely avoid. You’ll also be able to view buying guides for different types of seafood. Unfortunately, as you’re reading them, you’ll quickly discover how hard it is to find a sustainable choice. With shrimp, for instance, more than 90 percent of what you’ll find on the U.S. market is imported from sources that are a no-go.
Luckily, there are companies like New Wave Foods and Good Catch that make seafood from plants. Even Impossible Foods is working on “fishless fish.” That way, you can still enjoy the taste and benefits of seafood without disrupting the ocean.