Seaspiracy concludes “Fishing is bad, go vegan”, but how feasible is it?

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In case you missed it, there’s an environmental documentary on Netflix that’s making waves right now. This film is directed by Ali Tabrizi and it explores how the multi-billion dollar commercial fishing industry – and its role in the overfishing problem – is destroying marine life at a rapid rate.

Seaspiracy is also not holding back its shocking indictment against the industry. The film claims that overfishing causes more damage to our environment than deforestation, these plastic fishing gear and nets account for almost half of the plastic pollution in the oceans that kills precious sea creatures. Seaspiracy also challenges the sustainability advocacy of organizations such as Oceana and the Marine Stewardship Council, implying that there is no such thing as sustainable seafood and the oceans will be drained of their fish. in 27 years.

At the end of the film, Seaspiracy makes a controversial claim – the only way to save marine life is for people to stop fishing, stop eating fish altogether, and go vegans.

Why should we ban fishing?

While Seaspiracy is criticized for its use of incomplete and outdated data and its misrepresentation of conservation issues and marine organizations, the film raises valid points regarding the impacts of commercial fishing and overfishing.

Seaspiracy Movie
Photo via Seaspiracy film.

On its website, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recognizes that “fishing is one of the main factors of decline in ocean wildlife populations ”and is only a problem when ships catch fish faster than the oceans can replenish them.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said it recorded the highest level of total world capture fishery production in 2018. It reached 96.4 million tonnes, an increase of 5.4% over previous years. What that number tells us is that we are pushing the boundaries of our oceans; it cannot replicate its resources fast enough and if no action is taken it will lead to a global food crisis and loss of jobs for about 60 million people who work directly and indirectly in the fishing and fish farming sector.

So, should we ban fishing in the face of these serious threats? Some claim our oceans would be cleaner, carbon emissions would reduce, and we would have fewer problems with ocean pollution if fishing were banned. The seafood stock would be replenished and the marine ecosystem would recover. Isn’t that great?

However, there is the other side of the coin. Banning fishing would mean that 40 million people directly employed to catch wild fish would be unemployed. This figure does not include the millions of fishermen living in coastal towns who depend on fishing to feed their families. Without fishing as their main source of livelihood, they would find it difficult to survive.

And what about seafood intended for human consumption? Can we stop eating fish like this? This is not a problem for some people, for example, people living in more developed countries who have access to plant proteins and people who do not depend on subsistence fish farming for food.

For others, supposedly, there is always aquaculture to save the day. Aquaculture currently provides more than 50% seafood for human consumption, and this is expected to increase as demand for fish increases. However, Seaspiracy also accuses the aquaculture industry of unethical practices, showing shocking images of fish swimming in circles in its own filth and of salmon infested with lice, among others.

Related article: Patagonia releases revealing documentaries dissecting the environmental impacts of fish farms

Alternative solutions to the problems raised by Seaspiracy

While some may not necessarily agree with Seaspiracy’s conclusion to stop fishing and eating fish altogether, one thing that can be agreed is that drastic measures must be taken to stop the destruction of the sea. marine life – before it’s too late.

Here are some local and global alternatives that can be adopted to protect our seas:

No fishing grounds

While a total ban on fishing is unrealistic, the implementation of no fishing zones, especially on the high seas or in waters 200 miles from the territorial limits of coastal nations, is more achievable. Currently, only those with large industrial fleets can fish in these areas, leaving them the monopoly of catches. As marine biologist Daniel Pauly said, ending “high seas fishing would indeed create a vast marine protected area in nearly two-thirds of the world’s oceans, allowing fish stocks to rebuild and giving many less developed coastal countries a fair share of resources. fisheries “.

Publicity

When this is implemented, local fishermen in Southeast Asian and East African countries who depend on fishing as their primary source of food and livelihood will catch more fish.

Create more marine protected areas

Now, less than eight percent of our oceans are protected from all types of fishing. More marine protected areas (MPAs) will allow fish stocks to rebuild and marine ecosystems to rebuild. But stakeholders must also be clear in their understanding of the activities to be allowed in MPAs. Some existing areas still allow industrial and commercial fishing; some restrict visits and some MPAs only allow indigenous peoples to access these resources.

Of course, fully protected areas that do not allow any destructive activity can expect better conservation outcomes for marine resources. However, creating more MPAs and banning high seas fishing would require international cooperation, itself a difficult proposition. Although surveillance technology is available, some experts “doubt it political will to implement a ban. But Deep Sea Conservation Coalition co-founder Matthew Gianni hopes more nations will join the idea of ​​creating more marine protected areas based on his observations at UN conventions.

Ban trawlers

Trawling uses industrial size fishing nets to efficiently catch huge amounts of fish. Unfortunately, it also captures other marine species that are not meant to be part of the catch – other marine species such as small fish, crabs, dolphins, seagrass and corals – also known as bycatch. Bycatch results in the destruction of marine ecosystems, which has led marine conservation groups to call for a total ban on commercial trawling. Studies show that such bans may serve its purpose of protecting overexploited and sensitive regions.

In 2012, the Chinese government imposed a ban on trawl fishing in Hong Kong waters and bought the fishing boats used for trawling. The government has offered assistance to affected workers to help them make the transition from industry to others. This is a good example of implementation; rather than simply eliminating the ‘problem’ and destroying people’s livelihoods, offering incentives such as commercial loans to start new businesses or education programs focused on some form of non-destructive fishing can help. get stakeholder buy-in.

There should also be appropriate monitoring during implementation to ensure that fishermen do not resume trawling. Fishing regulations and sanctions should be in place to prevent violations.

Commercial vessels are more efficient at catching fish, but cause more marine destruction. Photo: William murphy.

Empower the fishing industry

It is high time that the commercial fishing industry was held accountable for the problems it has caused in the world’s oceans. A high percentage of plastic pollution in the Large Pacific Waste Zone come from lost or discarded fishing gear from commercial fishing vessels. This contraption is also responsible for the deaths of dolphins, whales, fish and turtles – marine life that gets caught and dies trying to unravel. What systems and protocols will these companies follow to ensure waste and pollution reduction?

Governments also cannot turn a blind eye just because the industry brings millions to their savings. It should not rely on self-regulation and industry reports; surveillance cameras on fishing boats can help promote better behavior, as can random audits.

The fishing industry should not be allowed to continue operating; governments should demand more transparency from industry to ensure that companies are doing all they can to fish responsibly.

Make wise consumption choices

If you eat fish, reducing the amount of fish you eat is a start and requires more transparency from the companies you buy your fish from. Avoid eating large fish species such as sea bream, deep sea shark (flake), deep sea perch, silver trevally, and other endangered and overexploited species. Ask your favorite restaurant or vendor about the source of their fish and what steps they take to ensure suppliers follow sustainable fishing practices. Consumer demand for sustainably caught fish and seafood can never be underestimated. The more customers ask for best practices in the industry, the more the industry will try to meet their demands.

The fight for the protection of marine life must be fought on all fronts – from the individual level to the local and global level. It’s not too late for all of us – customers, fishermen, regulators, businesses and environmentalists – to work together and play our part to help protect our oceans and ensure there is plenty of fish and seafood available. for people who need these resources. most.

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Cover image by Evgeny nelmin.

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