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‘Seaspiracy’: Do you know where your fish comes from?

Imagine this: you’re doing your weekly shop at Tesco and pick up a tin of tuna. You check the labels as you normally do – sustainable fishing? Yes. Dolphin safe? Yes. And pop it in your basket thinking that you’ve done your bit for the environment today. Seaspiracy challenges the existence of ‘sustainable fishing’ and ‘dolphin safe’ fishing by revealing these labels are nothing more than marketing prompts, since they cannot be guaranteed. This is due to the lack of enforcement of fishing regulations by government bodies, and even by the companies that license the labels ‘dolphin safe’ (Earth Island Institute) and ‘sustainably fished’ (MSC).

Firstly, why is the lack of fishing regulation enforcement important? International fishing regulations go back to 1995 when the UN enacted The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries which ‘calls for the sustainable use of aquatic ecosystems and requires that fishing be conducted with due regard for the environment’ as well as raising conversation about oceanic biodiversity. Today, the EU commissioner for the Environment & Oceans and Fisheries emphasises the importance of ‘sustainable fishing’. Multiple governing bodies stress the importance of conserving ocean habitats to tackle climate change and yet destructive fishing practices continue, as Seaspiracy highlights.

We are in a climate crisis; the 2014 Climate Change Synthesis Report, produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, estimates that our greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase at a rate that cannot be naturally absorbed. Our main hope in combating this is the ocean, as Dr Sylvia Earle identifies that ‘the ocean is the biggest carbon sink on the planet.’ 93% of all the world’s CO2 is stored in the ocean with the help of marine vegetation, algae and coral. To ensure the safeguarding of these marine plants we need to preserve oceanic biodiversity and maintain low levels of toxic waste, as well as physical disruption to the habitat. Large commercial fishing boats disrupt the ocean’s biodiversity by placing long-line nets in deep sea which collect everything from that area – this rips apart marine sea plant ecosystems and causes what has been termed ‘bycatch’.

93% of all the world’s CO2 is stored in the ocean with the help of marine vegetation, algae and coral

‘Bycatch’ refers to the other aquatic species caught when trying to catch a target species. So, why does bycatch reduce biodiversity? Biodiversity is the variety of plants and animals living in a particular habitat – in the ocean, this consists primarily of coral reefs, aquatic animals and small organisms (such as algae). Bycatch includes all of these organisms, which are usually dead upon sorting and disposed of into the ocean. This is a huge issue as bycatch from commercial fishing methods is killing aquatic animals at a rate much higher than organisms’ natural reproduction allows for. However, it is not only large commercial ships that contribute to the decrease in biodiversity but also ‘sustainable’ fishing vessels. Seaspiracy reveals that a small fishing ship in Iceland which had been celebrated for its sustainable fishing practices caught 269 harbour porpoises, 900 seals of 4 different species and 5000 seabirds as bycatch during one month. This rate of ‘accidental’ death is not sustainable as all of these animals are not naturally re-populated within a month.

Further, the documentary exposes that the ‘dolphin safe’ label is a marketing stunt rather than an actual consumer guarantee. The activist team Sea Shepherd found a ‘dolphin safe’ labelled fishing vessel was killing 45 dolphins for every eight tuna fish. In an interview, a spokesman from the Earth Island Institute stated that a can of tuna that kills even one dolphin is not ‘dolphin safe’. However, when confronted with Sea Shepherd’s findings they said that no ‘dolphin safe’ tuna is guaranteed to truly be dolphin safe. They said this is due to poor and corrupted regulation processes. Seaspiracy even exposes that some regulators have been murdered for vessels to maintain their licensing. Even ‘sustainable’ and ‘dolphin safe’ fishing vessels are harming oceanic biodiversity and engaging in criminal activity.

Being ignorant to your consumption of resources is not the answer – do your bit today for the ocean, for your personal health and your future on this planet

Most sustainable fishing activist groups see fish farming as the future of sustainable fishing. Fish farming involves hatching and raising fish in a secluded environment – this eliminates bycatch as only the target species are being reproduced. However, fish farming results in toxic waste (feces, uneaten food and dead fish) that is flushed into the surrounding waters and, therefore, endangers the biodiversity of that area as it pollutes local aquatic habitats. Furthermore, fish farming is not only damaging for the surrounding environment but also harmful for humans. The documentary’s team travelled to a salmon farm in the north of Scotland along with Don Staniford who showed them the piles of dead rotting fish – the lost produce of the farm. Fish farms have a 50% mortality rate as growing fish in a small environment, which leads to inbreeding, results in fish dying from anaemia, chlamydia, heart disease, lice infection and other related diseases. Not only this but fish farms are so unnatural that they need to dye their salmon – if the fish were not dyed then the meat would be grey. Seaspiracy highlights that 50% of the world’s fish is produced using farming methods. So, the salmon on your plate tonight has most likely been swimming around in lice-infested waters and dyed pink before being stamped with a ‘sustainability’ label and placed in the supermarket.

Seaspiracy shows us that the fight for climate change starts in the ocean – it starts by leaving the ocean alone. I recommend everyone watch this documentary and be informed on the destruction our current fishing methods are causing, and the fact that labels such as ‘sustainable fishing’ and ‘dolphin safe’ cannot even be trusted by the licensing distributors, so definitely should not be trusted by you as the consumer. Although the change must come from above, being ignorant to your consumption of resources is not the answer – do your bit today for the ocean, for your personal health and your future on this planet. 

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