Last week, I had the time to watch a documentary on Netflix: Seaspiracy. Actually, it was for a task that was assigned by a platform I am a member of. I wouldn’t imagine that it mentions vital issues for the Earth that we wouldn’t even consider as threats.
The narrator was Ali Tabrizi, a British filmmaker who has been interested in seas and oceans all his life. Marine life overall helps the atmosphere by the emission and absorption of gases, and it helps with the absorption of excess heat. Many sea plants can hold onto carbon and prevent it from being released into the atmosphere. While all the merits of marine ecosystems to our land ecosystems, we consistently continue to disturb it. Most of us would think plastics are the top concern for the continuity of marine life. Yes, they certainly affect the tremendous rates of ocean and sea pollutions nowadays. It is still important to go plastic-free, do beach cleanups or use reusable products. However, why do we neglect higher affect issues when they exist? Why don’t we consider the massive fishing industry killing millions of species every year? Why don’t we consider the pollution the fishing material such as the fishing nets causes? In fact, these days, it is those neglected pollution causes that make up the vast majority of the pollution in the oceans.
One of the most concerning issues destroying marine life is the killing of the grand species of the oceans. Dolphins, whales, and sharks are seen as threats to human life and hence, killed or trapped. Dolphins are killed because they eat much fish that fishers won’t have enough fish to hunt. Sharks are killed because they use their fins as a nutrient in China for the shark fin soup. When these animals are killed, it is not only them or their species that are destroyed. It is the whole environmental cycle that becomes ruined. When whales are killed, the number of phytoplankton, which are bacteria absorbing CO2 and emitting O2, produced decreases significantly. When sharks are killed excess poisonous material cannot be cleaned, causing the oceans to become swamps. With the increased bycatching1 of dolphins and whales, those species will become extinct in less than a decade. Not only the devastating massacres but also the coverage of harm to these animals through marine park entertainment areas. Countries like Japan hunt whales, sharks, and dolphins from their natural habitat and force them to live in a 50 m3 pool. They separate them from their families, friends, and their usual nutrition cycles. Marine parks, therefore, are only places which the governments use to hide their mass murders of marine animals.
Another issue is the “usual” fishing activities. The commercial fishing industry is under the protection of the governments because they provide enough income for the community. In fact, however, it is a devastating issue that destroys the marine ecosystem, both the animals and the plants. Especially specific applications such as trawling2 and bycatching are critical risks for the marine ecosystem in total. When you fish, you don’t only catch fish. You endanger the sea turtles who normally would use those fish as nutrients. You endanger coral reefs who normally would use the excretory waste of those fish to grow. But if you paid attention, no one, except a few activists, promotes decreasing the amount of seafood that we consume. Even the institutions that are promoting less use of plastics for the sake of the environment such as Earth Island Institute or Plastic Pollution Coalition do not promote decreasing fish intake. It is the same case with the governments. They wouldn’t risk even the littlest income and hence wouldn’t stop fishing. There are many people out there who will now ask “What are we going to miss out on when we stop eating seafood?”. Let me clarify that as well: we will miss those poisonous toxic heavy metal mercury accumulated in the fish’s body, the persistent organic pollutants dioxins, and PCBs. Of course, we will also miss the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids which in fact come directly from algae. However, considering the plant-based options and the drawbacks outweighing the benefits, we definitely can conclude that not eating fish is a step we can take towards the improvement of marine life.
Fishing in oceans does not only affect the life in water. It affects the living standards of humans and the animals living on land. For example, in West Africa, industrial fishers from other countries have taken over the ports in the area. They hunt 100s of 1000s of different species of fish which certainly is not caught in sustainable conditions. This disrupts the daily feed and routine job of the locals of the region. Then these locals start hunting wild animals from forests such as monkeys. This contributes both to the extinction of land animals and also the transmission of many fatal diseases such as Ebola. Furthermore, most of the local fishers in these areas are used as slaves for the ship of other countries. Since they have already lost their job, they work for cheap salaries, and in a way, they are forced to do it. However, the cheap labor force is not the actual covered-up story here. The slaves on board are treated as prisoners and hence many faced depression or fear, and there are many who have committed suicide. They’ve been bullied, abused, hit, or even killed and threw overboard.
“Decreased fish catch resulting from overfishing by subsidized Chinese and European vessels has enhanced wildlife hunting and bushmeat consumption.”-Ali Tabrizi
The fishing industry has developed many ‘tactics’ to hide their devastating massacre of marine life. The most common ones are the setting of marine protected areas, fish farming, and grind. They primarily created marine protected areas to stop fishing in certain areas. These are mostly determined by the governments who have borders with certain seas or oceans. However, their inhibition is only in words. There barely is a law against fishing in those areas, there barely is definite borders set to make the protected areas clear, or penalties against those who violate these rules. That’s why this system did not accomplish its goal. Fish farming could actually seem as a glimmer of hope for most because they introduced it as an eco-friendly way to feed the world without the problems of wildly caught fish. There is no bycatch, no illegal fishing, no seafloor damage, no murder of endangered species, no dangerous working conditions. Seems like a dream to live, but it is not. It is still not a sustainable way to catch fish because the accumulation of the organic waste produced by the fish themselves causes pollution. Furthermore, these wastes cause the fish to suffer from certain diseases. Fish in the farms originally die from diseases such as lice infestation, anemia, chlamydia, and heart diseases. This way, they lose their nutritional value and farming becomes just a waste of resources. In addition, the feed used to feed the fish in the farm is heavily processed dried fish meal and extracted fish oil. Ironically, a massive amount of fish has to be killed to produce this feed. Overall, the farms are just wild fishing in disguise. The last system developed is the ‘Grind’. Grind is known as a sustainable form of whaling claiming the species of whale aren’t endangered and that hunting them won’t cause harm to the environment. They also do claim that they do not directly attack the whales, but instead they push them to the coast which from their point of view does not affect the rest of the ecosystem at all. Someone really has to explain to them that this is literally no different from any other system for whaling or fishing.
“The estimate is by the middle of the 21st century, if we keep taking wild fish at the level that we are today, there’ll be no commercial fishing because there won’t be enough fish to catch.”-Slyvia Earle, American Marine Biologist
Marine life capturing, killing, or hunting are multibillion industries. Especially specific species such as bluefin tuna provide a big profit compared to any other industries. Therefore, nearly no one involved in the fishing industry neglect the environmental outcomes of their actions. There are some people who are aware of the damage killing marine animals does to the environment. However, they have reasons that make sense to them only to continue hunting marine animals:
“It is more logical to kill one whale, rather than 2000 chickens: the same amount of meat. When I kill a whale, I feel like a better person because I didn’t kill as many chickens.”-Jens Mortan Rasmussen, Faroese Whaler
Today, people are more aware of the damage we humans cause to the environment and many more people act toward the goal of complete sustainability in our world. However, it is an unfortunate reality that we are being deceived. In markets, many products have packaging branded with sustainable labels, indicating the sustainable production process of that product. They are just packages obscuring the fact that nobody can definitely know if the can is sustainable. In the case of marine food products, most of the canned fish products have “dolphin-safe” labels. They normally should clarify in the customer’s mind that no single dolphin was killed during fishing. In fact, no one can make sure of that, even the Earth Island Institute, an institution branding many canned products which they can just believe to be ‘dolphin-safe’ with the “dolphin-safe” label. For some years now there are governmentally hired observers on the board who are given the task of monitoring fishing activity on ships and making sure they are really “dolphin-safe”. However, there are a few of them who can report back to the government because they are either being murdered or thrown overboard by the crew on board. Keith Davis mysteriously disappeared in 2015 when he was on a mission to check the fishing procedure of a ship near Peru. Gerlie Alpajora, again in 2015, first received death threats from a tuna fisher, and then was assassinated in front of her two little children. The main point here is that the label on the tin isn’t worth a damn. It is just a marketing technique providing the labelers with massive income.
Most people claim that fish do not feel pain or experience fear. But in fact, they do, as the European Food Safety Authority found out via research. It’s logical. They have a nervous system and they can perform nearly all the survival functions as we can. So, it is just a widely spread legend to justify doing dastardly things to innocent creatures. There are now NGOs and institutions like Sea Shepherd that work in the oceans to stop the devastating results of human behavior. However, if we want to contribute, we definitely should consider making everyone aware and maybe even promote people to watch this documentary. Believe me, it will enlighten your knowledge of the current world.
1Bycatching is hunting and targeting a species unintentionally while catching other certain target species.
2Trawling is a method of fishing that involves pulling a fishing net through the water behind one or more boats, causing all the plants and animals to accumulate in the net called ‘trawl’. Informally it is known as the deforestation of the ocean.
Tabrizi, Ali, director. Seaspiracy. Netflix, 2021, http://www.netflix.com/search?q=sea&jbv=81014008.